Recently, President Biden released the details of the American Families Plan which has the potential to impact Head Start and other early childhood programs. While all the details have not been released, it is important to note the plan’s call for a $200 billion investment in free universal pre-school (UPK) for all three and four-year olds. The plan includes specifics such as raising the salaries of employees in pre-k and Head Start programs to at least $15 per hour and staff with comparable qualifications will receive compensation to commensurate with that of kindergarten teachers. The administration has also turned their attention to child care programs. The proposal for child care support includes investments to ensure low and middle-income families pay no more than 7% of their income towards high-quality child care. The plan also proposals funding for child care providers to improve quality focusing on small class sizes, coaching, culturally and linguistically responsive environments, and inclusive programming. Another aspect of the plan addresses the wages of child care providers using the same approach as the administration is proposing for Head Start and UPK programs. All the changes and proposals may leave you wondering, “how will this impact my program”.
Because Head Start and Early Head Start programs are so diverse the impact will vary based on the types of funding models that are utilized in your program and based on which state where you are located and the design of the state preschool program. For example, programs housed in states where state preschool is already universal (Texas, Oklahoma, etc.) may only see nominal changes as the system is already in place. However, the UPK programs in these states will increasingly target 3-year olds which are often left unserved that make up a large part of Head Start enrollment. There may also be more alignment of the state preschool and Head Start programs, particularly since 20 states were awarded B-5 Preschool Development Grants designed specifically for this purpose. In states where preschool is administered in public schools that are not yet universal, changes may be more significant, particularly if funding models to blend and braid Head Start funds are not widely utilized.
What about Child Care?
Often child care is not considered to have a large impact on Head Start and other publicly funded programs. However, this may no longer be the case. For example, the American Families Plan utilizes Head Start as a framework for increasing quality so investments in child care, while not attending to the comprehensive services model, the investment does lend to a replication of Head Start’s best practices in terms of coaching, child / staff ratios, group sizes, and teacher qualifications.
While these changes may seem daunting it is important to take note of the following considerations:
1. The American Families Plan must still follow the federal legislative process. The plan will be modified in many different ways before it is ultimately passed (if it is passed). Additionally, states will have different perspectives on the most pressing needs and early childhood may not be at the forefront of their concerns. Also, any plans will encounter barriers to ramp-up associated with the lack of an adequate early childhood workforce and appropriate facilities for children.
2. Head Start is a flexible, transformative, and the premier program for children and families in the United States. In the past, Head Start and the voice of Head Start advocates have played a strong role in the design of any federal universal expansion of early care and education services. It is vital that we are involved in this discussion as a community and that legislators understand the impact of changes on your programs.
3. There are still many gaps that impede systems change. Modifications to programs at the federal level occur incrementally which provides times for programs to adjust their program models to meet the needs of the community they serve. For example, in 2008 when most quality rating improvement systems were implemented it took a full five years before they were launched.
If you have more questions, we are here to help. Please feel free to visit Heartland’s website to download our American Families Plan Discussion Guide to explore your system and how these issues may impact your program.
Heartland staff have been regularly monitoring the federal grant accountability database in an effort to provide regular information on the status of the Early Head Start Expansion and Early Head Start Child Care Partnership grant awards. Recently, we compiled a list of awardees and we are pleased to share it in advance of the official announcement from the Office of Head Start.
Since 2012, Heartland has written over 50 recompetition proposals. Our strategy has always been to keep focus on the quality of our grants instead of increasing the quantity of grants we apply for which has resulted in successful ongoing funding for our clients. One of the keys to our success is a commitment to looking at each round of recompetition with “fresh eyes”. We have learned so much from our clients, from the process, and from consistently revisiting our fund development strategies. Below are a few critical elements of the process that we believe can “make or break” your recompetition proposal and our strategy for supporting our clients through the process.
Communication – The most important part of the grant development process is communication. The client is where the information to write the proposal comes from. What works for one client may not be the best approach for everyone. For example, a larger agency may have a staff member dedicated to coordinating the process, while in a smaller agency the executive director or Head Start director must take on the role of leading the grant process in addition to maintaining their daily responsibilities.
Innovation and Something New: Recompetition grants are incredibly detailed and our process often results in the need to create multiple documents that adequately capture your program’s best features. The recompetition process is designed to improve quality or expand services, it is important to make sure your application reflects your agency’s commitment to ongoing improvement and efforts to keep up with new research about “what works” for helping disadvantaged children transcend poverty.
What Heartland is Doing – Heartland will be leveraging site visits, technology, and other communication tools to customize how we work with each client. Upon initiation of our services we will create a communication plan that details how we will communicate and work together to make your application the best it can be. Heartland also has a full library of resource materials that are ready for your use and can advise you on program changes that will help keep your program in-step with new research.
Your Submission Date – The best proposals are guided by flexible timelines that are aligned to key steps in the process. Many programs begin the grant development process by setting firm timelines, but fail to account for the “human element”. For example, an auditor shows up, staff working on the grant turnover, or the budgeting process is more difficult than expected. As a result, the process falls off track and you end up submitting the day the grant is due.
What Heartland is Doing – Heartland staff will help you set a submission date and time for your program’s application that is at least 48 hours before the grant deadline. There is nothing more important to us than making sure your grant is submitted. Our staff will keep you on track by sending reminders, templates for your grant, and we will discuss the common pitfalls of the application process early on. Each grantee receives a “DRS Survival Guide” that we review during our first call that talks about elements of success and possible challenges that may arise so we can work them into the timeline. For example, we know that typically every budget we work on needs three reviews to ensure it is accurate and sufficiently detailed and another review after the information is put into the online submission forms. Even with a template and examples of funded budgets from DRS grants, the budgeting process tends to take as much time as the actual narrative to develop.
On May 4th the Early Head Start Child Care Partnership and Early Head Start Expansion (EHS-CCP) grant forecast was updated and the grant opportunity is slated to be released on June 5, 2018 with an anticipated due date of August 6, 2018. Through this funding opportunity, there will be $98 million available to fund new and existing EHS-CCP and EHS programs. The grant program will provide a unique opportunity to partner with childcare providers and to expand EHS services to increase the number of infants and toddlers served in high quality programs. Listed below are a few strategies that programs planning to apply for these funds may want to consider to increase your chance of successful funding:
1. What is your best program model? During the last round of funding, applicants had the choice of applying for funding in three different ways: 1) EHS-CCP Partnerships, 2) Non-Partnership Expansion, or 3) a mix of both EHS-CCP Partnerships and Expansion. When deciding which model is the best option for your agency it is important to identify if the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) will be allocating funds for any specific program models. For example, in round 2 of the EHS-CCP competition, ACF prioritized applicants that proposed to provide at least 51% of slots using the EHS-CCP Partnership model.
2. Funding is allocated by state, based on the number of children in poverty. This means that you are actually competing against other programs in your state applying for funding, rather than nationally. When you are designing your program model, it is good to get an idea of other EHS-CCP programs already operating in your state. Using this information, you can identify gaps in services and position yourself for a competitive application. To identify currently operating grantees, view the results from the last two rounds of the EHS-CCP competition on the Administration for Children and Families website.
3. Create informed partnerships. Having partners lined up and in support of your application is a good way to increase your chances of funding. Facilitate a community meeting or “EHS – childcare partnership information session” to help providers learn about the scope of the EHS program and the funding opportunity. Please feel free to contact Heartland for our community meeting guide.
Our thoughts on the delay of the Round 6 FOA
The most recent round of recompetition was slated to post on January 17th. However, as of this posting the application has not been released. There are several reasons that an application can be delayed and it happens in almost every round of recompetition at least once. For example, in round six, the new Head Start Program Performance Standards are likely to be incorporated into the new funding opportunity announcement and the grant evaluation criteria. As a result, the Office of Head Start has to train grant reviewers on how to evaluate applicant responses to the new criteria, as well as revise the application instructions. Another cause for a lack of application posting is lack of resources within the Office of Head Start to complete the grant review process. For example, grant reviewers are compensated for reviewing each application and the budget impasse may impact the ability for funds to be released for this task. Regardless, we have been given the gift of time. Use the extra time for the following tasks and you are sure to strengthen your proposal:
1. Gather anecdotal data to justify any program changes you would like to make in your application. For example, if you are proposing to convert slots to EHS survey your program families to see how many families have children eligible for EHS and note in your application the number of families that you will have enrolled immediately upon funding.
2. Update your school readiness plan and progress you have made in meeting family and program outcomes.
3. Update your grants.gov registration and watch the Workspace Webinar to ensure that you understand the submission process and how to upload your documents into the grants.gov system.
4. Review your policies to address the new program performance standards on expulsion and suspension, ERSEA training, attendance, and other issues as they are certain to show up in the new grant application criteria.
Like many programs, Heartland monitors Round 6 grant forecast every day. However, one little known grant secret is that FOAs are typically released on a Tuesday or Thursday in the Federal Register. So, if you are checking weekly, Tuesday is your best chance of catching it right out of the gate. We will keep you posted!
What about duration? Calling attention to the elephant in the room.
Last week, OHS disseminated a notice that programs would no longer be required to comply with the duration requirement by August, 2019. The Program Instruction indicates that the reason for the change was that OHS prefers to serve more children and families for less time, than to serve fewer children for more time. While this may be true, the desire to serve more children may signal that there is a proposed cut on the horizon for Head Start. Historically, when programs anticipate a challenge to their legitimacy, the last thing that administrators want is evidence there is a reduced need for services. With most duration conversions resulting in less children served, opponents to the Head Start program can make the case that Head Start is overserving children and for a reduction in funding. It is important to track this development and the discussions that are gearing up around Head Start for the next fiscal year.