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Head Start in Los Angeles County, the largest provider in the nation, could be broken up into a cluster of smaller programs under a new grant process aimed at improving quality in the federally-funded early childcare program for low-income families.

For the first time in Head Start history, grantees whose programs did not meet certain quality standards in federal inspections have been required to reapply for their funding and to compete with new applicants for the available funds. Grantees, mostly nonprofits and school systems, had been receiving pro forma grant renewals for decades.

“We anticipate that the funding to California Head Start programs will remain stable,” said California Head Start Association executive director Rick Mockler. “The question is who will be the grantees? Who will be the program providers?”

That announcement was originally scheduled for the end of last year, but in November the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services pushed it to the spring with no exact date given.

“The feds haven’t revealed anything,” Mockler said. “The assumption from the field is that there’s going to be some kind of a shake up but we don’t know how far or deep that will be.”

Four longtime grantees in California were forced to reapply for their funding in the competition. They are:

  • E Center in Marysville
  • Institute for Human and Social Development in San Francisco
  • Contra Costa County
  • Los Angeles County

Mockler said it was inevitable that the larger programs would be required to enter the grant competition since it was more likely that one of their many program providers failed to meet at least one criterion in the federal inspections. Mockler also said it was his understanding that many of the infractions found were mostly bureaucratic in nature. EdSource is waiting on a request for copies of the inspection reports.

L.A. County’s program serves upwards of 30,000 children in Head Start and Early Head Start. Laura Escobedo of the county’s child care division said last month she would be surprised if the county was not awarded any grant funding in the re-competition – though she acknowledged that the county is now one of “lots and lots” of organizations competing for the funds.

Currently, there are 160 Head Start programs in California serving more than 111,000 low-income children. Even though only four have been forced to re-compete, the total number of programs could change dramatically in 2013. It all depends on where the federal government decides to direct its grant funding after reviewing the applications. So far, the feds have not said how many alternate programs have applied for funding on a state-by-state basis. Nationally, 500 applicants are competing for funds previously spread over just 132 programs.

Transitional kindergarten expansion

Transitional kindergarten, a program for students on the youngest end of the kindergarten spectrum, began in 2012 as a result of the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010. It is set to hit its first expansion target in the fall of 2013.

The bill was the result of a push to roll back the kindergarten cut-off date to September 1, which is the standard in most states. California has long accepted students who turned five on or before December 1 to enter kindergarten. Kindergarten advocates argued that this policy left the state’s youngest at a disadvantage since they started kindergarten behind their peers developmentally.

In its first year, transitional kindergarten was open to children who turned five between November 1 and December 1. Approximately 40,000 students were eligible for the program this fall. The California Department of Education is set to release an actual enrollment number at the end of this school year. In August 2013, the program will expand to include students who turn five between October 1 and December 1.

Larger districts in the state have created separate classes and designated specialized teachers to lead transitional kindergarten. Some smaller districts have taken the option of keeping the youngest students in the same room, but providing them with specialized age-appropriate instruction.

EdSource will continue to cover the implementation of transitional kindergarten as it evolves over the course of 2013.


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