Report Finds Head Start Program Quality Varies Widely by State

A new report released by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers Graduate School of Education revealed that access to funding per child, teacher education, quality of teaching and duration of services under the Head Start program all vary widely by state, resulting in the neglect of many children living in poverty.

NIEER focused on the 2006–2007 and the 2014–2015 program years of Head Start, a federally funded national program to promote the school readiness and healthy development of at-risk children.

Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia are the leading states for enrolling 3- and 4-yearolds living in poverty. Nevada, North Carolina and Oregon have some of the lowest enrollment figures for both ages.

“To be effective,” the report says, “Head Start must be funded sufficiently so that it can provide high-quality learning experiences to more children for longer periods of time per day and per year.”

Children are eligible to participate in Head Start if they come from families living below the federal poverty level (FPL), are homeless, are receiving public assistance, or are in foster care.

Head Start programs currently serve less than 40 percent of the number of 3- and 4-year-olds in poverty and less than 5 percent of the number in poverty younger than age 3. However, not all Head Start children fall below the federal poverty level.

Programs serve less than 20 percent of low-income 3- and 4-year-olds and less than 3 percent of low-income children younger than age 3.

The report suggests that Head Start does not have the resources to serve all children in poverty, let alone all low income children who could benefit from the program.

In order to fully fund Head Start programs, the report estimates that more than $20 billion is needed. NIEER Director Steven Barnett says, “Action should be taken to figure out how to improve quality and reach of Head Start programs in all states.”

This article was featured in the Volume 88, Winter/Spring 2017 issue of AFSA’s newsletter, The Leader. To read the newsletter in its entirety visit: http://bit.ly/2nJdsIN