Obama’s Declaration on Head Start Competition: So What Else is New?

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November 8, 2011; Source: BETAs I read the coverage of Obama’s declaration about reviewing Head Start programs on a new set of benchmarks in an effort to root out the lowest performers with the intention of putting those contracts out to bid, I wondered – so what else is new? The President framed the move as a response to Republicans dragging their feet on education issues, saying “After trying for months to work with Congress on education we decided to take matters into our own hands because our future is at stake. Our children deserve action. And we can’t wait for Congress any longer.”

But the whole show seems a bit disingenuous when we remember that this train was already supposed to have left the station long ago. These measures for review and recompetition were required by the 2007 Head Start reauthorization which deemed that the Department of Health and Human Services take up the re-authorization of programs every five years instead of assuming that the programs would remain funded in perpetuity unless something significant intervened. The new draft rules written by DHHS in 2010 for Head Start, in fact, require that at least 25% of Head Start grants to be subject to recompetition as is stated below.

The conditions provided under paragraph (b) may result in the designation of at least 25 percent of grantees for recompetition as required under proposed paragraph (a). However, given the uncertainty regarding the impact of this new system and the critical need to ensure high-quality services for Head Start children, if a minimum of 25 percent of all grantees reviewed in the same year are not required to compete for their next five years of funding based on the conditions described in proposed paragraphs (b)(1)-(7), then objective criteria established by the Secretary would identify additional low performing grantees that will be required to recompete such that the total number of grantees required to recompete meets the 25 percent requirement.

Maybe I am wrong about the President’s framing of this issue. Am I missing something? Let us know but on the surface this appears to be an administrative action proceeding as planned and not an action taken as a rebellion to recalcitrance.—Ruth McCambridge