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Head Start Recompetition: A Peek Inside the Process

As more than 130 Head Start providers around the U.S. wait—and wait—for final word on whether they will hold onto all, part, or none of their grant funding to provide preschool services to low-income children, the federal agency overseeing the process has finally answered some basic questions about how the first-of-its-kind recompetition is unfolding.

Of course, it took a few months and pressure from members of Congress to get some of this information.

In a letter to U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that the agency received more than 500 applications. That's right, 500 applications for grants that are currently held by 132 agencies such as community-based organizations, school districts, and nonprofits. The two largest Head Start programs in the country—in New York City and Los Angeles County—are among those up for grabs.

She offered no other details about who the applicants are.

Secretary Sebelius also shared a little insight into the composition of the panels of judges who are reviewing applications, although the emphasis is on little. From her letter:

"In response to the [Office of Head Start] reviewer recruitment campaign, more than 1,300 individuals submitted resumes, two professional references, and a writing sample. All applicants were screened through a three-tier vetting process including an in-depth review of their application and resume, writing sample, reference check, and finally the applicant's successful completion of federally conducted OHS Grant Reviewer Training. As a result, a cadre of approximately 460 qualified, nonfederal reviewers has been selected."

The letter also says that the reviewers received two and a half days of "intensive training" designed to "deepen their understanding" of Head Start and Early Head Start programs and the specifics of the recompetition process.

And the letter noted that only when awards are announced—a decision that has been pushed back to spring—will the agency share the detailed applications of the winners.

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