Is Head Start a Good Fit for my Agency?

The Head Start program provides high-quality, comprehensive early education programming to low-income children and families so that children start school ready to succeed. In 2007, Congress enacted legislation that required, for the first time in the program's history, greater competition within communities for Head Start funding. The goal of the legislation and the subsequent regulations finalized on December 9, 2011 is to ensure that federal Head Start funding is directed to the organizations that are most capable of delivering high-quality early education that puts children on a pathway to school success and opportunity. Funding opportunity announcements are the mechanism for implementing this new competitive requirement and competitions that result from grantee relinquishments and terminations.

About Head Start and Early Head Start

The Head Start program provides grants to local public and private non-profit and for-profit agencies to provide comprehensive child development services to predominately economically disadvantaged children and families. Head Start's primary purpose is to prepare children to be ready for school.

Head Start is designed to increase the number of low-income children receiving high-quality, comprehensive early education services that help facilitate healthy development, including physical and social/emotional development, and prepare them for school success. To meet this goal, it is critical that Head Start funds do not supplant existing services. Thus, an entity receiving a Head Start grant must 1) expand the number of children it is serving relative to the number it would serve in the absence of the grant, and/or 2) improve the services provided to children it would serve in the absence of the grant.

Head Start grantees must, unless a waiver is granted, contribute at least 20 percent of the total cost of the program from non-federal funds. No more than 15 percent of total costs may be used for program administration.

Head Start Program Performance Standards

The Head Start Program Performance Standards are the regulations applicable to program administration and grants management for all grants under the Act, including grants for technical assistance and training and grants for research, demonstration, and pilot projects.

Head Start Resources

The Head Start Approach to School Readiness encompasses three major frameworks that promote an understanding of school readiness for parents and families, infants/toddlers, and preschoolers. More on the Head Start approach to school readiness can be found here: http://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/sr/approach.

The Office of Head Start (OHS) Training and Technical Assistance (T/TA) system supports program staff in their delivery of quality services to children and families. The current system consists of three levels of T/TA: national, state or regional, and grantee. Leading the delivery of T/TA at the national level are six centers:

Each Center’s specialized area of focus is staffed by experts with extensive experience with Head Start and evidence-based practices that positively affect the lives of young children and their families.

Eligible Providers for Head Start and Early Head Start

The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) intends to fund applications that demonstrate an organization's commitment and capacity to operate a Head Start program that raises the quality of early care and education in the community and helps children start school ready to succeed.

Applicants responding to the Birth to Five pilot funding opportunity announcement and applying to serve both Head Start and Early Head Start must meet the eligibility criteria for Head Start.

Head Start

The Administration for Children and Families solicits applications from local public or private nonprofit organizations, including faith-based organizations or local for-profit organizations in the community, that wish to compete for funds that are available to provide Head Start services to children and families.

Applicants must demonstrate they meet the statutory requirement for designation as a Head Start agency in Section 641 of the Head Start Act. ACF will consider all "qualified applicants in such community" as required by Section 641(d) where the applicant demonstrates it has an organizational base within the community to be served. This could be established by virtue of the applicant being a provider of services in the community or having a clear relationship to the community as evidenced, for example, by board representation from the community or by evidence of the support of community leaders, including, but not limited to mayors, city council members, school principals, presidents of local chambers of commerce, county government officials, social service provider organizations, community organizations representing low-income, minority or other relevant sectors of the community, and child care providers and organizations.

Eligible Head Start Providers:

  • County governments
  • City or township governments
  • Independent school districts
  • Public and state controlled institutions of higher education
  • Native American tribal governments (federally recognized)
  • Public housing authorities/Indian housing authorities
  • Nonprofits having a 501(c)(3) status with the IRS, other than institutions of higher education
  • Private institutions of higher education
  • For-profit organizations other than small businesses
  • Small businesses

Early Head Start

The Administration for Children and Families solicits applications from public or private non-profit organizations, including faith-based organizations, or for-profit organizations that wish to compete for funds that are available to provide Early Head Start services to infants, toddlers, and pregnant women.

Eligible Early Head Start Providers:

  • State governments
  • County governments
  • City or township governments
  • Independent school districts
  • Public and state controlled institutions of higher education
  • Native American tribal governments (federally recognized)
  • Public housing authorities/Indian housing authorities
  • Nonprofits having a 501(c)(3) status with the IRS, other than institutions of higher education
  • Private institutions of higher education
  • For-profit organizations other than small businesses
  • Small businesses

Head Start Locator – Directory of Current Grantees

The Head Start Locator is a searchable directory that provides locations, addresses, and driving directions for Head Start programs, centers, and grantees.

 

Last Reviewed: March 2012

Last Updated: March 12, 2014