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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.

About Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships

As part of President Obama’s Early Learning Initiative, ACF has set aside $635 million for new and existing Early Head Start-Child Care (EHS-CC) Partnerships and Expansion. In FY 2014, Congress appropriated $500 million which funded 275 grantees. In FY 2016, Congress appropriated an increase of $135 million to support additional EHS-CC Partnerships and Expansion programs. These grants allow new or existing Early Head Start programs to partner with local child care centers and family child care providers serving infants and toddlers from low-income families. ACF will support states and communities as they expand high quality early learning opportunities to infants and toddlers through EHS-CC Partnerships. The partnerships will support working families by providing a full-day, full-year program so that low-income children have the healthy and enriching early experiences they need to realize their full potential.

Head Start Program Performance Standards

Head Start Program Performance Standards are the foundation for Head Start’s mission to deliver comprehensive, high-quality individualized services to support the school readiness and healthy development of children from low-income families.

Eligible Applicants 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

Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships

Eligible Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership 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
  • Nonprofits without 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

Additional Eligibility Information:

  • Eligible entities include: (1) entities operating Head Start programs, (2) entities operating Indian Head Start or Migrant or Seasonal Head Start programs, and (3) other public entities, and nonprofit or for-profit private entities, including community-based and faith-based organizations, capable of providing child and family services that meet the standard for participation in programs under the Head Start Act.

Faith-based and community organizations that meet the eligibility requirements are eligible to receive awards under this funding opportunity announcement. Faith-based organizations are encouraged to review the ACF Policy on Grants to Faith-Based Organizations at: http: //www.acf.hhs.gov/acf-policy-on-grants-to-faith-based-organizations. Applications from individuals (including sole proprietorships) and foreign entities are not eligible and will be disqualified from competitive review and from funding under this announcement.

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 2016

Last Updated: March 15, 2016