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Redesigned Oversight Process Uncovered New York Head Start Problems

The deficiencies that were found last year during an inspection of Head Start centers operated by the city of New York—and that prompted a letter from two House Republicans about whether the city's multimillion-Head Start grant should have been suspended—were discovered after the federal Office of Head Start implemented a new monitoring system that it says will provide a greater level of detail about how well Head Start centers are performing. 

The federal Office of Head Start provided more information on the New York City Head Start inspection to Education Week in response to an inquiry about the April 10 letter from U.S. Reps. John Kline of Minnesota and Todd Rokita of Indiana, both Republicans.

In December, Head Start inspectors visited the centers operated by New York City's Administration for Children's Services. The inspection uncovered a long list of deficiencies that were outlined in a Jan. 20 report. Those problems included allegations of children being shoved and struck by teachers, rodent and roach infestations in some centers, and unsafe buildings and playground equipment. 

Almost all of the problems are fixed now, said Jill Krauss, a spokeswoman for the New York City agency, and Head Start officials say they are continuing to work closely with the city. 

The new monitoring protocol required federal inspectors to examine each of the nearly 200 Head Start centers that are overseen by the New York City Administration for Children's Services, not just a sample of centers as with previous inspections. A sample of New York Head Start centers was last monitored in 2009. The inspections then uncovered some safety problems, but not enough to indicate that problems were serious or systemic, officials at Head Start told Education Week. 

The lawmakers' letter said they wanted to know why New York didn't face the same sanctions as other Head Start grantees that had their funding revoked for violations that put children's safety at risk. Mr. Kline is the chairman of the House education committee; Mr. Rokita oversees the subcommittee on early childhood.

The decision to allow New York City to continue to receive Head Start money "appears to represent a divergent path from other decisions regarding safety concerns from centers," they wrote in their letter."

New York didn't lose its money because Head Start grantees are given time to fix problems first, the Office of Head Start said in a draft response to the Kline and Rokita letter. So-called "summary suspensions" without notice have been done only four times in the past two years, according to Head Start.

But there will be additional consequences for the city agency. The deficiencies found in December mean that New York City will once again be required to compete for continued Head Start funding in a few years, just as it was required to compete in 2012. All Head Start programs are moving to a five-year grant funding cycle, with the goal of weeding out weak providers and bringing in new grantees.

After the first round of competition, federal officials pared down New York City's Head Start service area: The city now receives $129 million to serve about 13,000 children. Before the 2012 results were released, it was funded at $192 million and served about 19,000 children. Some of the organizations that New York oversaw have become direct recipients of Head Start funds. 


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