Head Start Program Governance: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Head Start leaders who implement strong governance systems often face important questions. When such questions arise, leaders should refer first to key Head Start policy and regulation. These items include the Head Start Act, Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS), Information Memorandums (IMs), Program Instructions (PIs), and Policy Clarifications (PCs). These resources will help to determine if Head Start regulations and policies exist that address the issues at hand.

Please note that the current HSPPS were developed prior to the Head Start Act of 2007, and a new set of standards has not yet become available. For this reason, when you face questions where the Head Start Act and the Program Performance Standards appear to provide different answers, you should seek guidance from your federal Office of Head Start (OHS) staff. Note: These resources are under review.

FAQs Pertaining to the Governing Body

  1. What is the required composition of a Head Start governing body?
  2. Section 642(c)(1)(B) of the Head Start Act describes the required composition of a Head Start governing body:

    The governing body shall be composed as follows:

    (i) Not less than 1 member shall have a background and expertise in fiscal management or accounting.

    (ii) Not less than 1 member shall have a background and expertise in early childhood education and development.

    (iii) Not less than 1 member shall be a licensed attorney familiar with issues that come before the governing body.

    (iv) Additional members shall--

    (I) reflect the community to be served and include parents of children who are currently, or were formerly, enrolled in Head Start programs; and

    (II) are selected for their expertise in education, business administration, or community affairs.

    (v) Exceptions shall be made to the requirements of clauses (i) through (iv) for members of a governing body when those members oversee a public entity and are selected to their positions with the public entity by public election or political appointment.

    (vi) If a person described in clause (i), (ii), or (iii) is not available to serve as a member of the governing body, the governing body shall use a consultant, or another individual with relevant expertise, with the qualifications described in that clause, who shall work directly with the governing body.

  3. The Head Start Act specifies that certain members of the governing body have "a background and expertise" in particular areas. Is there a regulation or policy that more clearly defines "a background and expertise"?
  4. The Head Start Act of 2007 does not define or describe "a background and expertise" by reference to educational qualifications or credentials. It is reasonable, however, to expect Head Start agencies to secure the membership or services of individuals with demonstrated experience in fiscal management or accounting, early childhood education and development, and legal issues that routinely come before Head Start governing bodies. All Head Start agencies should bear in mind that their governing bodies are required to "have legal and fiscal responsibility for administering and overseeing programs" under the Head Start Act. [See OHS Policy Clarification E-23.]

    Regarding the requirement that a governing body have a member who is a licensed attorney, OHS Policy Clarification E-26 states: As long as the individual is licensed to practice law and is "familiar with issues that come before the governing body," including issues under the laws of the state in which the grantee operates, he or she will be considered to have met the requirements of the Head Start Act. [See OHS Policy Clarification E-26.]

  5. Can a staff member of a Head Start agency serve as a member of the governing body?
  6. Section 642(c)(1)(C)(iii) of the Head Start Act prohibits staff members from membership in the governing body. [See OHS Policy Clarification E-27.]

  7. Can a staff member serve as a consultant to the governing body?
  8. There is no legal prohibition against a staff member of a Head Start agency serving as a consultant to the governing body. Each Head Start governing body must make its own choice about which, if any, consultants to use in order to assure that board members are provided with accurate, objective, and complete information. [See OHS Policy Clarification E-27.]

  9. Do the public entity governing body membership exceptions apply to Indian tribes?
  10. The public entity governing body exceptions listed in Section 642(c)(1)(B)(v) of the Head Start Act apply to governing bodies of federally-recognized Indian tribes whose members are publicly elected or politically appointed when the tribal governing body also serves as the governing body for the tribe's Head Start program. [See OHS Policy Clarification E-27.]

  11. Can governing body members be compensated for serving on the governing body or for providing services to the Head Start agency?
  12. Section 642(c)(C)(ii) of the Head Start Act states that governing body members, with the exception discussed below, cannot be compensated for serving on the governing body or for providing services to the Head Start agency. [See OHS Policy Clarification E-27.]

  13. What exceptions are allowed for governing body member compensation?
  14. Section 642(c)(1)(D) of the Head Start Act states that if an individual holds a position as a result of public election or political appointment, and such position carries with it a concurrent appointment to serve as a member of a Head Start agency governing body, and the position held as the result of public election or political appointment provides compensation, that individual shall not be prohibited from receiving compensation. [See OHS Policy Clarification E-27.]

  15. Can consultants be compensated for providing services to the governing body or for providing services to the Head Start agency?
  16. If an individual with the required background and expertise is not available to serve as a governing body member, a Head Start grantee may compensate a consultant or another individual with the relevant expertise for providing services to the governing body or for providing services to the Head Start agency. If the consultant or other individual with relevant expertise contributes his or her services, the agency may claim that contribution as non-federal share. [See OHS Policy Clarification E-27.]

  17. How can the governing body use advisory committees to support its responsibilities relative to the Head Start program?
  18. Section 642(c)(1)(E)(iv)(XI) of the Head Start Act describes how the governing body can establish and use advisory committees to support its responsibilities:

    (E) RESPONSIBILITIES - The governing body shall—

    (iv) be responsible for other activities, including—

    (XI) to the extent practicable and appropriate, at the discretion of the governing body, establishing advisory committees to oversee key responsibilities related to program governance and improvement of the Head Start program involved.

    In addition, OHS Policy Clarification E-24 advises the following:

    (a) A Head Start governing body should have policies and procedures to ensure that, in establishing an advisory committee (or sub-board), it retains legal and fiscal responsibility for the Head Start agency as required under section 642(c)(1) of the Head Start Act. Such policies and procedures should include:

    (1) a written agreement specifying the specific duties, actions, and obligations the proposed advisory committee (or sub-board) is responsible for in overseeing responsibilities related to program governance and Head Start program improvement;

    (2) procedures describing the membership of the advisory committee (or sub-board), the responsibilities of each member, and the process and procedures for their selection; and

    (3) procedures describing how the advisory committee (or sub-board) will provide the governing body with sufficient and timely information about its activities and decisions in order to enable the governing body to exercise their legal and fiscal responsibilities for administering and overseeing Head Start programs including safeguarding of federal funds as required by section 642(c)(1)(E)(i) and (d)(2) of the Act.

    (b) Prior to establishing an advisory committee (or sub-board), the governing body should notify the responsible OHS official in order for OHS to assure that the proposed arrangement is appropriate.

  19. What constitutes a conflict of interest for governing body members?
  20. Section 642(c)(1)(C) and (D) of the Head Start Act defines conflict of interest for governing body members as follows:

    (C) CONFLICT OF INTEREST - Members of the governing body shall--

    (i) not have a financial conflict of interest with the Head Start agency (including any delegate agency);

    (ii) not receive compensation for serving on the governing body or for providing services to the Head Start agency;

    (iii) not be employed, nor shall members of their immediate family be employed, by the Head Start agency (including any delegate agency); and

    (iv) operate as an entity independent of staff employed by the Head Start agency.

    (D) EXCEPTION - If an individual holds a position as a result of public election or political appointment, and such position carries with it a concurrent appointment to serve as a member of a Head Start agency governing body, and such individual has any conflict of interest described in clause (ii) or (iii) of subparagraph (C)—

    (i) such individual shall not be prohibited from serving on such body and the Head Start agency shall report such conflict to the Secretary; and

    (ii) if the position held as a result of public election or political appointment provides compensation, such individual shall not be prohibited from receiving such compensation.

  21. How should a Head Start agency address conflict of interest situations involving governing body members?
  22. OHS suggests that Head Start agencies faced with a conflict of interest situation should examine the facts, analyze the issues, and make a determination about how the situation will be handled. OHS advises agencies to keep records of all conflict of interest situations, how they were resolved, and why they were resolved in a particular way. [See OHS Policy Clarification E-29.]

FAQs Pertaining to the Policy Council

  1. What are the selection and election requirements for members of the Policy Council?
  2. Section 642(c)(2)(B) of the Head Start Act describes the selection and election requirements for members of a Policy Council:

    (i) The Policy Council shall be elected by the parents of children who are currently enrolled in the Head Start program of the Head Start agency.

    (ii) The Policy Council shall be composed of–

    (I) parents of children who are currently enrolled in the Head Start program of the Head Start agency (including any delegate agency), who shall constitute a majority of the members of the policy council; and

    (II) members at large of the community served by the Head Start agency (including any delegate agency), who may include parents of children who were formerly enrolled in the Head Start program of the agency.

    In addition, Part 1304.50(b) of the HSPPS states:

    (7) Parents of children currently enrolled in all program options must be proportionately represented on established policy groups.

  3. How are procedures determined for selecting and electing Policy Council members?
  4. Section 642(c)(2)D)(vii) of the Head Start Act describes the role the Policy Council plays in developing election procedures for the Policy Council:

    (D) RESPONSIBILITIES - The Policy Council shall approve and submit to the governing body decisions about each of the following activities:

    (vii) Developing procedures for how members of the Policy Council of the Head Start agency will be elected.

    Section 642(c)(1)(E)(iv)(VI) of the Head Start Act describes the role the governing body plays in developing selection procedures for the Policy Council:

    (E) RESPONSIBILITIES - The governing body shall –

    (iv) be responsible for other activities, including –

    (VI) developing procedures for how members of the Policy Council are selected, consistent with paragraph (2)(B).

    OHS Policy Clarification E-28 provides further guidance:

    The Policy Council is responsible under section 642(c)(2)(D)(vii) for developing procedures for how members of the Policy Council of the Head Start agency will be elected. Once the Policy Council has approved the procedures, they submit the procedures to the governing body for its approval.

    While the Head Start Act requires that Policy Council members be elected by parents of children enrolled in the program, the Act gives the governing body authority over the process of selecting Policy Council members. The Policy Council has a role in recommending how procedures will be developed by the governing body for the election of Policy Council members. The governing body determines the system for election of the Policy Council. This may include, for example, how such individuals are nominated, how elections are conducted, and the qualifications for membership. [See Policy Clarification E-28.]

  5. What constitutes a conflict of interest for Policy Council members?
  6. Section 642(c)(2)(C) of the Head Start Act defines conflict of interest for Policy Council members as follows:

    (C) CONFLICT OF INTEREST- Members of the policy council shall –

    (i) not have a conflict of interest with the Head Start agency (including any delegate agency); and

    (ii) not receive compensation for serving on the policy council or for providing services to the Head Start agency.

    Section 642(c)(1)(C) of the Head Start Act, which pertains to governing body members, can be used to further understand what constitutes a conflict of interest for Policy Council members as well. A conflict of interest includes the following:

    • having a financial conflict of interest with the Head Start agency (including any delegate agency)
    • being employed, or having an immediate family member employed, by the Head Start agency (including any delegate agency)
  7. Can Head Start parents who are also staff serve on policy groups as voters?
  8. Part 1304.50(b)(6) of the HSPPS states:

     

    No grantee or delegate agency staff (or members of their immediate families) may serve on Policy Councils or Policy Committees except parents who occasionally substitute for regular Early Head Start or Head Start staff. In the case of Tribal grantees, this exclusion applies only to Tribal staff who work in areas directly related to or which directly impact upon any Early Head Start or Head Start administrative, fiscal, or programmatic issues.

  9. How long after the beginning of an operational year does a grantee/delegate agency have to establish a Policy Council/Committee?
  10. Part 1304.50(a)(3) of the HSPPS states that all Policy Councils, Policy Committees, and Parent Committees must be established as early in the program year as possible. Grantee Policy Councils and delegate Policy Committees may not be dissolved until successor Councils or Committees are elected and seated.

  11. How can a new grantee or delegate agency without an official Policy Council move forward with hiring staff?
  12. There is no current regulation or policy that addresses this issue. To demonstrate their commitment to collaborative decision-making, many programs choose to organize an interim policy group made up of potential Head Start parents and community representatives who are involved in the process of hiring Head Start staff.

  13. What are the differences between a Policy Council, Policy Committee, Policy Group, and Parent Committee?
  14. The Policy Council exists at the grantee level of a Head Start program. If the grantee has delegate agencies carrying out the program, then the Policy Committee must be formed. Section 642(c)(2) and (3) of the Head Start Act describes Policy Council and Policy Committees as follows:

    (c) Program Governance - Upon receiving designation as a Head Start agency, the agency shall establish and maintain a formal structure for program governance, for the oversight of quality services for Head Start children and families and for making decisions related to program design and implementation. Such structure shall include the following:

    (2) POLICY COUNCIL –

    (A) IN GENERAL - Consistent with paragraph (1)(E), each Head Start agency shall have a policy council responsible for the direction of the Head Start program, including program design and operation, and long- and short-term planning goals and objectives, taking into account the annual communitywide strategic planning and needs assessment and self-assessment.

    (3) POLICY COMMITTEES - Each delegate agency shall create a policy committee, which shall--

    (A) be elected and composed of members, consistent with paragraph (2)(B) (with respect to delegate agencies);

    (B) follow procedures to prohibit conflict of interest, consistent with clauses (i) and (ii) of paragraph (2)(C) (with respect to delegate agencies); and

    (C) be responsible for approval and submission of decisions about activities as they relate to the delegate agency, consistent with paragraph (2)(D) (with respect to delegate agencies).

    The Policy Council and Policy Committees are known as policy groups. 

    In addition, Part 1304.50(a)(1)(iii) and (e) of the HSPPS describes Parent Committees as follows:

    (iii) Parent Committee. For center-based programs, this Committee must be established at the center level. For other program options, an equivalent Committee must be established at the local program level. When programs operate more than one option from the same site, the Parent Committee membership is combined unless parents choose to have a separate Committee for each option.

    (e) Parent Committee. The Parent Committee must carry out at least the following minimum responsibilities:

    (1) Advise staff in developing and implementing local program policies, activities, and services;

    (2) Plan, conduct, and participate in informal as well as formal programs and activities for parents and staff;

    (3) Within the guidelines established by the governing body, Policy Council, or Policy Committee, participate in the recruitment and screening of Early Head Start and Head Start employees.

  15. What are the term limits for members of a Head Start Policy Council/Committee, and why are there limits?
  16. Parents and other community representatives are limited to a maximum of three one-year terms. Terms are limited to ensure that greater numbers of parents have access to the decision-making experience and that new ideas and community representatives are available to the program. 

    Part 1304.50(b)(5) of the HSPPS addresses term limits for Policy Council and Policy Committee members:

    (5) Policy Councils and Policy Committees must limit the number of one-year terms any individual may serve on either body to a combined total of three terms.

  17. Can low-income members of a Policy Council, Policy Committee, or Parent Committee be reimbursed for travel, meals, and child care expenses that arise because of Council responsibilities?
  18. Part 1304.50(f) of the HSPPS addresses reimbursement for Policy Council activities:

    (f) Policy Council, Policy Committee, and Parent Committee reimbursement. Grantee and delegate agencies must enable low-income members to participate fully in their group responsibilities by providing, if necessary, reimbursements for reasonable expenses incurred by the members.

  19. What is the Policy Council's role in personnel decisions?
  20. Section 642(c)(2)(D)(vi) of the Head Start Act describes the Policy Council's role in personnel decisions:

    (D) RESPONSIBILITIES - The policy council shall approve and submit to the governing body decisions about each of the following activities:

    (vi) Program personnel policies and decisions regarding the employment of program staff, consistent with paragraph (1)(E)(iv)(IX), including standards of conduct for program staff, contractors, and volunteers and criteria for the employment and dismissal of program staff.

  21. If a grandparent is a primary caregiver, can he or she serve on Policy Council?
  22. Part 1306.3(h) of the HSPPS describes who is considered a "Head Start parent" for purposes of Policy Council election and selection:
    (h) Head Start parent means a Head Start child's mother or father, other family member who is a primary caregiver, foster parent, guardian, or the person with whom the child has been placed for purposes of adoption pending a final adoption decree.

  23. How should Policy Council parents be included in the planning process of the local Head Start program?
  24. Part 1304.50(d) and (e) of the HSPPS provides guidance on how Policy Council members should be included in the Head Start program planning process:

    (d) The Policy Council or Policy Committee.

    (1) Policy Councils and Policy Committees must work in partnership with key management staff and the governing body to develop, review, and approve or disapprove the following policies and procedures:

    (iii) Procedures for program planning in accordance with this part and the requirements of 45 CFR 1305.3;

    (iv) The program's philosophy and long- and short-range program goals and objectives (see 45 CFR 1304.51(a) and 45 CFR 1305.3 for additional requirements regarding program planning);

    (viii) The annual self-assessment of the grantee or delegate agency's progress in carrying out the programmatic and fiscal intent of its grant application, including planning or other actions that may result from the review of the annual audit and findings from the Federal monitoring review (see 45 CFR 1304.51(i)(1) for additional requirements about the annual self-assessment)

  25. What does a program do when there is conflict between the governing body and Policy Council?
  26. Part 1304.50(h) of the HSPPS addresses conflict resolution between the governing body and Policy Council:

    (h) Internal dispute resolution. Each grantee and delegate agency and Policy Council or Policy Committee jointly must establish written procedures for resolving internal disputes, including impasse procedures, between the governing body and policy group.

  27. Can parents be required to participate or volunteer in Head Start?
  28. Part 1304.40(d)(2) of the HSPPS addresses whether parents can be required to volunteer in Head Start:

    (d) Parent involvement – general.

    (2) Early Head Start and Head Start settings must be open to parents during all program hours. Parents must be welcomed as visitors and encouraged to observe children as often as possible and to participate with children in group activities. The participation of parents in any program activity must be voluntary, and must not be required as a condition of the child's enrollment.

    For programs providing a home-based option, Part 1306.33(b) of the HSPPS addresses parent participation:

    (b) Home visits must be conducted by trained home visitors with the content of the visit jointly planned by the home visitor and the parents. Home visitors must conduct the home visit with the participation of parents. Home visits may not be conducted by the home visitor with only babysitters or other temporary caregivers in attendance.

FAQs Pertaining to the Governing Body and Policy Council

  1. Is there a regulation that pertains to the training and technical assistance that must be provided to the Policy Council/Committee and governing body?
  2. Section 642(d)(3) of the Head Start Act details who has responsibility for training governing body and Policy Council and committee members:

    (d) Program Governance Administration—


    (3) TRAINING AND TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE - Appropriate training and technical assistance shall be provided to the members of the governing body and the Policy Council to ensure that the members understand the information the members receive and can effectively oversee and participate in the programs of the Head Start agency.

  3. Can members of the governing body and the Policy Council be reimbursed for child care and/or mileage expenses for attending board and committee meetings?
  4. OHS Policy Clarification E-30 advises the following:

    Head Start and delegate agencies may establish policies and procedures for reimbursement of governing body members for reasonable costs actually incurred by members, such as transportation and child care, associated with their participation in board and committee meetings. Reimbursement may be limited to low-income members at the discretion of the agency.

    In addition, Part 1304.50(f) of the HSPPS addresses reimbursement for Policy Council activities:

    (f) Policy Council, Policy Committee, and Parent Committee reimbursement. Grantee and delegate agencies must enable low-income members to participate fully in their group responsibilities by providing, if necessary, reimbursements for reasonable expenses incurred by the members.

    Head Start Program Governance: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). HHS/ACF/OHS/NCPMFO. 2014. English.


Last Reviewed: February 2016

Last Updated: October 27, 2016