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Report: “The Next Generation of Head Start”

Resource November 2, 2023

Recently, the Children’s Equity Project, in partnership with the Equity Research Action Coalition, and the Center on the Ecology of Early Development (CEED), released a report, “The Next Generation of Head Start,” focused on strategies to expand access, improve quality, and advance equity in Head Start.  This brief includes 10 proposed updates that could strengthen and improve Head Start for the next generation. 

Head Start has been providing high-quality comprehensive early learning, health, nutrition, and family support services to children and their families since its inception in 1965. Head Start programs are known to be an exemplary model of early childhood development and health for children and families as they are governed by a rigorous set of standards, known as the Head Start Program Performance Standards.

However, due to insufficient funding and difficulty recruiting and retaining qualified early educators, among other challenges, Head Start only serves 9% of eligible children under age three and 30% of eligible children ages three and four. Head Start has continued to face a serious workforce shortage because of low wages, stress, burnout, and difficulty competing with higher wages in other sectors. As a result, a lack of staff means more programs maintain long wait lists and high turnover rates mean the children receiving services may experience disruptions to their learning and growth.

Congress has the ability to improve Head Start through a robust reauthorization. Head Start was last reauthorized 15 years ago in 2007, and both the early learning landscape and the needs of families and communities have changed significantly since then. Therefore, there are significant opportunities to update and improve Head Start’s design to expand access to more children, align state and local early care and education systems to the Head Start model, and fund adequate implementation efforts.

The report proposes that embedding the following 10 updates will make critical and necessary improvements to Head Start:

  1. Make Head Start a unified prenatal to school-entry program with a minimum cost per child.
  2. Improve the needs assessment process, ensure slots are geographically accessible to the highest need families, and allow grantees to adjust eligibility criteria based on community need, including the option to establish community-wide eligibility in communities of concentrated poverty.
  3. Authorize and expand the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships (EHS-CCPs).
  4. Explicitly promote socioeconomic integration. 
  5. Target family economic mobility and wealth generation meaningfully.
  6. Improve data collection, target community relevant research, launch new pilots. 
  7. Build in policies and resources to adapt to a changing environmental climate and mitigate child health and social risks.
  8. Compensate, support, and continue growing a diverse workforce.
  9. Update and improve the training and technical assistance system.
  10. Deepen the focus on equity and align this focus with the monitoring system.

Read the full report here.

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