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Head Start Programs Could Increase Length of Day, Year With New Funding

Close to $300 million in federal money will be made available to Head Start programs to lengthen their program's year and day, part of a Congressional budget deal that shifted more money to the 50-year-old preschool program for children from low-income households. 

Programs are required to apply for the funds, and to be eligible, they cannot already be providing a full day and year to most of their children. The Office of Head Start said that about two-thirds of Head Start center-based programs and one-third of Early Head Start center-based programs are eligible to apply, and the funding will provide up to 135,000 children with additional learning time. 

Congress approved a $570 million increase to Head Start for fiscal 2016. In addition to money for lengthening the program year and day, the boost will also pay for Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership Grants and for cost-of-living adjustments.

The money, hailed by Head Start director's Blanca Enriquez as a "smart investment," would become part of a Head Start grantee's regular budget. So a local Head Start center that applied for and won the supplemental would adjust its overall annual budget up on an ongoing basis.

There is not enough funding to convert every existing Head Start seat to a full-day, full-year spot. Estimates based on President Barack Obama's proposal to do just that came in at around $1.5 billion, according to my colleague Christina's story on the matter in September. The proposed revisions to Head Start drew a mixed response, but Head Start officials say that they're following research that consistently shows that a longer program day has a bigger impact on children's learning.

In addition to expanding the program day and year, Head Start also proposed other major changes back in June

Head Start remains the country's largest early care and learning program, serving a million children and pregnant women each year.

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