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Head Start Waiving Requirement to Offer Longer School Day and Year

headstart_600.jpgThe Office of Head Start is putting off a requirement for its grantees to offer a longer day and year for 4-year-olds, because the program would need to cut 41,000 slots to make the change under current funding levels. 

In 2016, Head Start passed new performance standards. Among the changes in those standards: Center-based Head Start programs would have to operate at least 1,020 hours a year, up from the current requirement of 3.5 hours a day and 128 days per year, or 448 hours annually. (The new rules set no specific day-length or year requirement, but 1,020 hours is the equivalent of 170 days of six hours each.)

Half of the nation's center-based Head Start programs were supposed to make the change by August 2019, with all of them providing more hours by August 2021.

The change to program duration was a major shift for Head Start in the performance standards, which had last been revised in 1975. Sylvia Burrell, then secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, said in 2016 that "research has shown us that children who spend more time in the classroom learn more and have better social skills than their peers ... ultimately, they're better prepared for kindergarten, and thanks to this change, more children will have that strong foundation."

But built into the new standards was the authority for the HHS secretary to waive the requirement if Congress didn't appropriate enough money to expand services without cutting slots. Head Start would need about $535 million in additional money if half of its center-based programs offered a longer day and year by the 2019 deadline. Head Start, which serves about 1 million low-income families, received about $9 billion in fiscal 2016. 

Head Start is also taking a close look at the 2021 deadline, it said in a notice to grantees. If Congress doesn't significantly increase Head Start funding by 2020, it's likely that the expansion will be put off again, the notice said.

Education Week File Photo: In 2013, teacher Kim Moore works with Janiya Hobby at the Claxton-West Head Start Center, in Knoxville, Tenn.—Shawn Poynter for Education Week

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