Strengthening Head Start: What the Evidence Shows. There are many barriers to coordination


Several specific obstacles exacerbate lack of coordination of early childhood programs at the state level. For example:

  • Current law and regulations do not provide any specific legal authority or mechanism for states to coordinate with Head Start grantees at the statewide level, resulting in many states having no involvement or leverage to ensure coordination between Head Start and other early care and education programs. When Head Start was created in 1965, early childhood programs like public pre-kindergarten and child care did not exist in most states. However, as state-level programs in early childhood have exploded in the past decade, laws and regulations have not kept pace with the need for coordinating Head Start with state programs. The Head Start statute does provide for state collaboration grants, although they are used differently in each state. Some of these grants have been more successful than others in improving coordination and collaboration at the state level. In addition, these collaboration grants are voluntary arrangements, and do not create a specific mechanism or legal authority for collaboration.
  • State child care and education administrators interviewed by GAO(27) reported that factors impeding collaboration at the state level include differing eligibility requirements; turf issues, such as concerns about losing program authority; lack of information on different programs; and the lack of funding to support collaborative activities. State officials expressed concern that their power or authority would be reduced by collaboration, and that they would be unwilling to share program funds. These issues often reflected the division between child care programs, which are generally administered through human services agencies, and early childhood/preschool education programs, which are generally administered through the education departments and public schools. One state official in GAOs survey said that with their separate funding, regulations, and goals, the child care and education offices traditionally have not understood the importance of each others role in a childs development.
  • Child care resource and referral agency staff and state administrators surveyed by GAO also frequently cited a lack of information on the various programs that fund child care and education as a barrier to collaboration. For example, one respondent commented that a lack of understanding of the different agencies and organizations policies and service delivery mechanisms hindered collaboration.
  • Other respondents to the GAO survey reported that insufficient funds hindered their ability to collaborate. Lack of funding to support collaborative initiatives was widely cited as a barrier, with respondents specifically citing a lack of staff, training, and transportation as hampering collaboration with other organizations.
  • A review has looked in depth at the experiences of three states  Georgia, Massachusetts, and Ohio  in developing a major early education initiative.(28) The review found several challenges for states to overcome in building a coordinated early childhood education system addressing both school readiness for children and work supports for families. They include: (1) developing a comprehensive vision that encompasses both the need for early education for children and for work support for families; (2) addressing regulatory differences among programs and funding streams; (3) implementing early education initiatives across different structures and constituencies; and (4) tracking progress and measuring results. The review also noted the importance of finding adequate fiscal resources to support state-level coordinated systems, and pointed out that the three state efforts highlighted had been developed in an era of expanding fiscal resources.

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