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Some Head Start Providers to Lose Their Federal Aid

UPDATED

Twenty-five out of 125 low-performing Head Start providers that went through a recompetition process to maintain federal funding have lost their entire service area, the Office of Head Start announced today.

Fourteen additional grantees will see their money split between new and existing providers, said Yvette Sanchez Fuentes, the director of the Head Start office, in a press call this morning. Eighty providers will continue to receive their existing funds.

In all, the Head Start office, which is housed in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is negotiating with 160 prospective providers to cover the areas that were once served by the 125 organizations, she said. In six cases, the current Head Start grantee was the only one that applied for the federal funds, but the federal reviewers determined those programs did not meet quality standards. In those cases, the department plans to reopen the competition this spring, but allow the providers to continue operating for the time being.

The Head Start office announced in 2011 that 132 grant recipients would be required to recompete for funds, among them the Los Angeles County Office of Education, New Haven Public Schools in Connecticut, the City of Detroit, and the Pittsburgh school system. The final number, of 125 grant recipients evaluated, comes because some grants were removed for technical reasons, and others were entered into a separate "birth to five" pilot program.

The agency said in an email it did not have a list of Head Start providers whose contracts were not renewed, despite having a count of how many of those there are. Sara Mead, an associate partner at Bellwether Education Partners who specializes in early childhood education, noted that this is the first time the agency has ever gone through this process, which may account for some of the lack of clarity about the providers. (Mead writes Education Week's Policy Notebook blog, and today she wrote about Head Start, too.)

Even though some of the organizations asked to recompete are not on the list of those the Head Start office is currently negotiating with, it's too soon to say those organizations lost their grant, said Ted Froats, a public affairs specialist with the Administration for Children and Families. That's because the potential new grantees still have to agree to Head Start's funding and service requirements.

If the potential grantees do not agree, Head Start will need to either select a new potential grant recipient from among the applications, or open the competition again. In such a situation, a grantee that is currently not on the list—effectively in line to lose its grant— could appear again.

The final list of grantees is expected to be available in July, Fuentes said.

Fuentes and George Sheldon, the acting assistant secretary for the HHS's Administration for Children and Families, stressed that this competition process was the first time that Head Start providers have been asked to reapply for federal funds in the program's 48-year history. The department has always had the ability to pull funds for health and safety reasons, or if there was evidence of fiscal mismanagement. But in most cases, providers have had their grants automatically renewed.

Head Start is now moving to a five-year grant process, so that no provider will be getting money in perpetuity without a review, Sheldon said. "This allows HHS to fund the best possible organizations in the community," he said.

The competition process also comes amid concerns about the effectiveness of the $7.6 billion program, which serves about 1 million infants and young children, as well as pregnant women. An HHS-commissioned study of the Head Start program, released in December, said that academic benefits of the program faded by 3rd grade when students in Head Start were compared to their peers that were not enrolled in that program.

The recompetition program came from regulations signed into law by the Obama administration in 2011. While the federal government was deciding on this first wave of grant reapplications, it announced that a second wave of Head Start programs would be going through the competition process.

Today's announcement has come a few months after the federal government said it would release the recompetition results. After first saying it would let providers know by the winter, it pushed the timeline back to spring of 2013. Head Start providers have noted that the federal government created a heavy workload for itself because it was trying to implement competition in a program that never had it before.

"We don't have a model for taking an operating institution, shutting it down, and replacing it with a new operating institution almost overnight," said Tim Nolan, the chief executive of National Centers for Learning Excellence, Inc., a Head Start grantee in Waukesha County, Wis., in a Education Week report. His organization was among the providers in the second wave asked to recompete for federal funds.

Education Week staff writer Nirvi Shah contributed to this post.

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