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Head Start Policy Book

The President's Proposal to Strengthen Head Start
and Improve Preschool Programs

The single most important goal of the Head Start reauthorization should be to improve Head Start and other preschool programs to ensure children are prepared to succeed in school. Given the vital role states already play in conducting preschool programs, the President believes there should be a state option in the Head Start program to foster comprehensive, high quality preschool programs.

Under the President's proposal for improving preschool programs in general and Head Start in particular, Governors are offered the opportunity to integrate preschool programs with Head Start programs for the state or a region within the state in exchange for meeting certain accountability requirements. Governors from states wishing to participate must submit a state plan for approval to the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Education that addresses several fundamental issues concerning preschool education. The issues that must be addressed by the state plan include:

  • State Preschool Goals and Activities. States will explain how they will work with the public schools at the state or local level to develop the skills and behaviors that children must possess to perform well in kindergarten. Each state will also explain how it will develop and implement a set of guidelines for use by individual programs to develop these skills and behaviors during the preschool years. The skills and behaviors should include: language development; pre-reading skills including phonological awareness, letter knowledge, and vocabulary; numeracy; and social and emotional competence.

  • State Accountability Program. States must develop an accountability program that will indicate how well children in individual programs are performing relative to the skills and behaviors identified by the state as prerequisites for effective kindergarten performance. Accountability results by program will be made public and states will be encouraged to conduct activities designed to help parents understand the results for their child and their child's program.

  • Coverage and Maintenance of Effort. The state plan must result, at a minimum, in the same coverage to serve at least as many Head Start eligible three- and four-year-olds as are currently being served through Head Start. The state plan should identify the number of state dollars that were spent on state preschool programs and Head Start programs in the most recent fiscal year, and provide assurances that it will, at a minimum, maintain this level of state spending each year. States must also continue to provide comprehensive services, including social, family, and health services. States should ensure that all their preschool programs are coordinated with the Medicaid and State Child Health Insurance Program as well as with social service programs that provide help to poor and low- income families.
  • Professional Development. States will provide information on their plan for assuring professional development opportunities for preschool teachers and administrators.
  • Preschool Program Coordination. States will explain how they intend to coordinate the use of funds across all state and federal programs that have the purpose of promoting school readiness and how they will administer the program. These may include Head Start, Early Head Start, Title I preschool, the special education preschool program, and state-funded preschool programs. States are encouraged to include child care programs in their plan, especially programs supported by funds from the Child Care and Development Block Grant. To the maximum extent possible, states should allow parents choice in the selection of preschool programs.
The Administration's proposal includes an additional feature that is designed to help fund the development of preschool guidelines and accountability programs. Under current law, the Department of Health and Human Services spends about $165 million per year to provide technical assistance to improve Head Start programs. The Administration intends to make a significant portion of this money available to states to meet their needs in designing and implementing state plans.

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