As big fans of quality, accountability, and improved outcomes for our nation’s most at-risk kids, we at the First Five Years Fund are heartened by President Obama’s announcement earlier today of new regulations for competition in the Head Start grant process. The early childhood advocate community has been waiting with bated breath for these improvements, based on bipartisan legislation passed by Congress in 2007, that stand to strengthen the services that almost 1,600 Head Start and Early Head Start grantees provide to nearly one million children nationwide.

So what’s the big deal? The basic idea of recompetition is that over the next three years, the Department of Health and Human Services, which administers Head Start, will review the performance and program quality of all grantees. Those that don’t meet specific quality benchmarks will be required to compete for continued funding. There’s a quick timetable: the Administration estimates that one-third of all grantees will be required to compete for continued funding under the new rule, with HHS notifying the first group of grantees that will be required to compete in December 2011. Going forward, all Head Start grants will be converted to five-year grants, and each program’s performance and quality will be evaluated every five years to determine whether the grantee meets the benchmarks or must compete to receive another grant. This is a crucial change in the way the feds think about funding this critical program, and it has great potential to mean better services that lead to better outcomes. Need a reminder of what those outcomes look like? Visit to hear the stories of successful adult Head Start alums, and please pass the site along to any grown-up grads of the program in your network—we’d love to hear from them.

There are plenty of ways to stay on top of the latest competition news:

Keep in mind that Congress will need to preserve federal investments in early learning to ensure that these necessary improvements continue to serve the kids who need them most. I hope this news leaves you as energized as I am, because we’ll all have to rally together soon to remind our representatives in Washington that quality early childhood education is an economic imperative.

The early learning programs that see the highest rate of return on public investment and deliver the best outcomes for participating children are those of the highest quality. FFYF welcomes recompetition as a potentially powerful way to ensure that all Head Start programs are efficient, effective, and accountable to the stakeholders who matter most: each and every American who benefits when at-risk children are provided with the quality care they need to succeed in school and in life.

Read our press statement on the final rules.