Head Start

April 26, 2012; Source: Wall Street Journal

Two converging trends at the intersection of nonprofits and government have collided in the arena of Head Start grants. The Obama administration faces well known budgetary constraints which all but impel the White House to look for cost savings wherever it can, and this may be changing the funding landscape for Head Start agencies, which are the products of the “War on Poverty” initiatives of the 1960s.  According to this article in the Wall Street Journal, this year will be the first time that Head Start agencies “will have to compete for a share of $7.6 billion in federal funding under a plan aimed at weeding out low-performing preschool centers.”

The Obama Administration’s move has been applauded by Congressional Republicans and other Head Start critics, such as Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, who lauded what he saw as the administration’s effort to “protect taxpayer dollars by requiring the lowest-performing programs to re-compete.”

The administration’s “initial move,” according to the WSJ, was to identify 132 out of the 1,600 Head Start programs as “deficient.” Because of that designation, instead of getting their grants automatically renewed by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), they will have to “prove they are effective in preparing children for kindergarten before they will be given future funding.” HHS announced the new funding process last week, and Yvette Sanchez Fuentes, who oversees Head Start for HHS, explains, “We want to open this up to competition and see if there are other organizations out there that are innovative and creative.”

“This is about holding all programs accountable,” said Sanchez Fuentes. But Head Start agencies may aim at holding the administration accountable. Head Start programs in 10 states have sued the administration, charging that the application of the new regu