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More is Better: Expanding Learning Time in Head Start Programs

The Administration announces nearly $300 million in funding for Head Start programs nationwide.
The President visits with Akira Cooper
Jan. 22, 2015
"While we were in Lawrence, Kan., we stopped at the Community Children's Center–one of the nation's oldest Head Start providers. The President sat next to Akira Cooper, right, and reacted to something she said to him." (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Today, the Obama Administration announced nearly $300 million in funding for Head Start programs nationwide to expand the number of Head Start children who attend full school-day and -year programs that can better help them prepare for future success in school and in life.  This funding, provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will provide up to 135,000 children with additional high-quality, learning time that research shows improves school readiness

For over 50 yeArs, Head Start has been at the heart of America’s communities. From our urban and rural neighborhoods, to our farmworker families and tribal nations, it has played an important role in the lives of more than 32 million children and their families.

Today’s announcement represents another step forward in the President’s commitment to improve and expand Head Start. Over the last eight years, this Administration has worked to maximize the program’s impact on the school readiness and healthy development of the nearly one million children served by Head Start, including investing an additional $4 billion in the program.

The announcement is also aligned with the policy goals set forth in the revised program standards for Head Start services that the Administration proposed last year. Those standards called for increasing full school-day and –year offerings in Head Start among other changes designed to improve the quality of program services.  The Administration will issue Final regulations enacting revised standards in the coming months.

Research indicates that full school-day and year preschool programs are associated with greater gains in cognitive and social-emotional development and school readiness, and that added hours of early education contribute to closing the achievement gap. 

Children in Head Start programs operating at the minimum number of hours currently required -- just 448 hours per year -- receive less than half of the early learning services that children in some state-funded pre-kindergarten programs receive, and substantially less than children served in the highest impact early childhood education programs. Moreover, nearly 60% of children in Head Start programs do not receive a full school-day and full year of early learning services.

Beyond the benefits to Head Start children, extending the duration of the program has clear benefits to children’s families who balance work schedules with the need for affordable, high-quality child care during the hours and days that children are not in Head Start. It is especially complicated for families who have older children in schools. To that end, aligning the Head Start calendar with the school calendar is another important benefit for families, and for children in Head Start who will soon transition into schools. 

The President’s 2017 Budget proposes nearly $300 million in additional funding to continue progress toward the goal of ensuring that every Head Start child has access to a full school-day and full-year program, because every Head Start child deserves access to the early learning time they need to thrive.

Today is an important step in the right direction to ensure that all of our children -- regardless of the zip code in which they live or the type of early learning program they attend -- have access to a high-quality program and services that will support their early development and education. We look forward to working with Congress to ensure that this progress continues.

Sharon Parrott is Associate Director for Education, Income Maintenance, and Labor Programs at the Office of Management and Budget.