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Low-performing Head Start programs that receive federal funding will now be required to reapply for their grants, President Barack Obama announced on Tuesday.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will review all 1,600 Head Start programs that receive federal money over the next three years, according to a White House release. The assessments will include an onsite review, an analysis of school-readiness goals and an evaluation of classroom quality. Programs that do not pass review must compete for federal grants. Head Start programs that have their state or local license revoked or are found to improperly manage their federal funding must also apply for grants.
The White House estimates that one-third of Head Start programs, which reach nearly 1 million children in total, will be asked to reapply for funding. The first group of grantees that will be required to resubmit their applications will be notified in December.
For the indefinite future, all Head Start grants will be limited to five years. Every five years, programs must submit to an evaluation to determine whether they have met their benchmarks or must reapply for federal funding.
This reform is based on the 2007 Head Start reauthorization, which included a mandate for greater accountability and transparency in federal funding for the program, said Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council Melanie Barnes in a conference call with reporters Tuesday.
Head Start and other early learning programs have been heralded by Education Secretary Arne Duncan as a way to close the achievement gap. "I don't think there is a better way to do that than enrolling children in high-quality early learning programs," said Duncan during the conference call.
Congressional Republicans chastised Obama for what they called a "partisan ploy." Barnes blamed the GOP for failing to take action on a number of educational initiatives, such as a piece of Obama's jobs plan that would have funded 400,000 teacher jobs, during the conference call. They noted that the Head Start initiative has been on the table since 2007.
“I am pleased President Obama has finally issued new Head Start regulations that have been long overdue," Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said in a statement.
Obama has undertaken several measures to improve the Head Start program. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included $2.1 billion for the program and its zero-to-three program, Early Head Start, which provided 61,000 additional slots. The president has also established an Early Learning Challenge as part of his Race to the Top initiative, which sets aside $500 million for states to improve early learning programs, including Head Start.