The President's FY 2016 Budget for Head Start
President Obama's fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget is great news for Head Start and Early Head Start programs across the country. The budget requests $10.1 billion for Head Start, which is a $1.5 billion increase over the current year. The largest share of this $1.5 billion increase is a $1.1 billion investment to ensure that every Head Start program serves children for a full school day and full school year. The budget request also includes $284 million for a cost-of-living adjustment for all programs. Finally, an additional $150 million for Early Head Start–Child Care (EHS-CC) Partnerships would grow that investment to $650 million.
What does the president's proposal to extend all Head Start programs to a full school day and year mean? Well, the good news is that a third of our programs already serve children in full-day/full-year programs. But, children in programs operating under Head Start's current minimums receive only 448 hours of Head Start over the course of a calendar year. That is less than half of the early learning services that children in full school day, full school year programs receive. Those programs have a long way to go toward ensuring that every Head Start child receives the best opportunity for early learning.
The question of "dosage," or the amount of time children need to spend in early learning programs, has been a long-standing debate in the early childhood field. However, there is strong and mounting evidence from research that strongly points to the importance of full-day programs. This research includes full-day preschool1, full-day kindergarten2, the Head Start Impact Study3, and effective teaching and curricular practices4. Time for small group and one-on-one interactions is needed to support all of the domains that are important to later school success. It is very difficult for a half-day program to provide sufficient time for teachers to conduct the full scope of learning activities that children need and ensure there is enough time for meals, naps, and play5. By investing in full-day programs for all children in Head Start, the president's budget will support teachers in their efforts to ensure that every Head Start child is ready for school.
The research on summer learning loss and attendance tells us that extending the program year also is critical for Head Start children. Experts say that the average student loses an entire month's worth of skills over a three-month summer break6. This learning loss is even greater for children from low-income families7, like those Head Start serves. It follows that allowing the majority of children in Head Start to have a four-month break is not the best way to support their school readiness. The president's budget recognizes this fact and provides the necessary investment to allow all Head Start programs to provide full school day, full school year opportunities to the most vulnerable preschoolers across the nation. We also know from research that this smart investment will produce great dividends—not just for the children and families that Head Start serves, but for society as a whole—through a greater return on the federal investment in early childhood.
In addition to a significant investment in supporting the "dosage" linked to stronger outcomes, this budget supports programs in meeting the rising costs of operating Head Start and Early Head Start programs without compromising quality. With $284 million for a cost-of-living adjustment, programs can absorb inflationary costs, retain highly qualified staff, and maintain services to children and families.
The final exciting increase in the president's FY 2016 budget is an additional $150 million for EHS-CC Partnerships, bringing the total investment to $650 million. Since the initial investment of $500 million, appropriated in FY 2014, we have increased the number of high-quality infant and toddler slots by tens of thousands; but there were many more high-quality applications than we were able to fund. The additional $150 million requested in the budget will expand the reach of EHS-CC Partnerships and continue to raise the level of quality for infant and toddler care around the country.
Colleen Rathgeb is a Division Director at the Office of Head Start.
The President's FY 2016 Budget for Head Start. HHS/ACF/OHS. 2015. English.
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Last Reviewed: February 2015
Last Updated: April 2, 2015