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HHS Proposes Major Overhaul of Head Start Performance Standards

A major overhaul of Head Start performance standards could double class time for children. Photo courtesy of U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.
A major overhaul of Head Start performance standards could double class time for children. Photo courtesy of U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.
August 11, 2015

NEW YORK – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has proposed the first-ever comprehensive overhaul of performance standards for the Head Start program.

Advocates say much has changed since current Head Start standards were adopted in 1975, and while proposed revisions have generally received a positive reaction, concern remains about eliminating the requirement to establish parent committees.

Shanequa Levin, campaign director at Every Child Matters Long Island, says parental involvement is critical.

"Head Start will give them exposure and make them feel like this is what you're supposed to be doing for your child," she says. "It helps them stay connected, and bridges that gap from home to school."

New standards would also more than double the required minimum hours, making Head Start a full-day, full-year program. HHS estimates that would cost $1 billion, but Congress has yet to appropriate the funds.

Ouida Foster Toutebon, president of the New York State Head Start Association, says the full-day requirement may force some programs to accept fewer children.

"You have half-day classrooms, now you have to make them full-day," she says. "In order to keep the same number of children, you have to be able to have new space. So, if they could back that up with some funding, that would be really helpful."

Toutebon says in some areas the locally designed, half-day programs serve the community better than it would to require a full-day program.

Levin says the longer schedule would be easier for parents who have full-time jobs, and would provide added benefits for children.

"This may be the only place the child is getting several meals a day, and actually experiencing developmental growth that stimulates them this way," she says.

A public comment period for the new Head Start performance standards ends Aug. 18.

Andrea Sears/Tommy Hough, Public News Service - NY