Report Highlights Gaps Between Head Start Programs
RICHMOND, Va. — Access to quality Head Start programs varies widely, according to new research. Children's advocates say Virginia can help close educational disparities by equalizing that.
The "State(s) of Head Start" report found the early education programs vary greatly from one community to another. Emily Griffey, policy director with Voices for Virginia's Children, said they found the same pattern in all kinds of early childhood education in the state. She said nearly two-thirds of higher-income Virginia children attend preschool, compared with less than half of their lower-income peers.
"One of the most important things about the achievement gap is that it actually starts before children enter school,” Griffey said. "Opportunities to attend preschool through Head Start can help close that."
The Head Start report was issued by the National Institute for Early Education Research. It recommended that states work to close gaps in funding, classroom hours, enrollment, and teacher pay and quality.
Griffey said the new research also helped confirm another pattern they've seen: Head Start works. She said it's been proven to make a big difference in how well children do over the long term.
Virginia has made progress on early-childhood education in the last few years, Griffey said. And given the state's budget shortfall, they'll be talking to lawmakers at the General Assembly with that in mind.
"We're facing unique budget challenges and an uncertain political climate,” she said. "So we are hoping to protect our investments in children, so that we don't lose ground."
One important method state and local governments use to improve their Head Start programs, Griffey said, is leveraging federal money for the programs with other kinds of funding.
"Match them to state or local funding to expand the Head Start day or to increase the quality of Head Start,” Griffey said. "And that has been what some other states have done and what some localities do."
The full State(s) of Head Start report can be found online at NIEER.org.