HHS Requires Some Head Start Programs to Compete for First Time

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will for the first time force underperforming Head Start grantees to compete for funding against potential competitors in their regions.

The Family Youth Services Bureau, the division of the HHS Administration for Children and Families that oversees Head Start, notified 132 Head Start grantees that they were designated to compete for funding in 2012. The notification follows a new regulation written by the administration that requires all grantees to meet seven quality benchmarks related to health, safety and fiscal integrity.

President Obama announced the new regulation in November, and it took effect on Dec. 9. Over the next three years, all 1,600 Head Start grantees will be evaluated for adherence to the ACF estimates that one-third of those grantees will be required to re-compete for continued funding in the next three years.  

“This administration is fully committed to ensuring that our Head Start children and families receive the highest quality services from the most capable organizations,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, in a statement released yesterday. “We are holding programs to high standards for classroom quality and program integrity and today’s announcement sends a strong message that the status quo is no longer acceptable.” 

The list of 132 grantees that will compete is available here. Funding announcements for these service areas will be posted on www.grants.gov in early 2012.

One of the grantees, Community Action of Laramie County in Wyoming, was not aware it was on the list until Youth Today called.

“I was worried this might be coming,” said Executive Director Mary Bienz. She suspects that CALC’s inclusion relates to fiscal accounting problems with the program that have been addressed.

A major evaluation of the 46-year-old Head Start program, released in January 2010, found that participants did not, on average, fare better academically by the end of first grade than a control group. In October 2010, Sebelius announced that a competitive system was coming.

House Republicans initially targeted Head Start for a $1 billion-dollar cut in fiscal 2011, but last year’s spending deal bumped Head Start funding to $7.5 billion, up from $7.2 billion in 2010.

In the omnibus spending package passed this week, Head Start again received an increase, this time to $7.98 billion.