Don’t Be A Sitting Duck. Secure your Program Sustainability in 2017 : Head Start in 2019
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Don’t Be A Sitting Duck. Secure your Program Sustainability in 2017

by Andrea Abbott on 11/11/16

While the dust is still settling from the presidential election, much is still up in the air about what it means for Head Start. Trump did not comment on Head Start while on the campaign trail. However, from an assessment of his initial appointments and the capture of the House and Senate by the Republican party and the appointment of Rep. Price as the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services we can make some inferences and offer a few suggestions that may help guide your program planning and decision making.

Let’s start with Mike Pence. he has a mixed record on early education to say the least. He did create a small state prek pilot in Indiana, but it only reaches five counties and served just 1,585 four-year-olds in 2015. It is anticipated to grow to 2,300 children next year. He also squandered the opportunity to obtain more than $80 million in funds to expand pre-k by deciding at the last minute to not submit the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge proposal for the state of Indiana, which was already written by a team of early childhood experts convened to design a viable program for low-income children. It is likely this proposal would have been funded as Indiana was just one of two states labeled as a “Category 1” which means it was prioritized for funding. In sum, Mike Pence has voiced some support for expanding early childhood education, but it has not been followed by consistent positive actions.

Representative Tom Price... It is an understatement to say that the Secretary of Health and Human Services has a strong influence on the direction of Head Start. President-elect Donald Trump recently announced the appointment of Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) as his pick. This appointment poses a potential challenge to Head Start as Rep. Price has long advocated for state control of the Head Start program. In 2003, he proposed a legislative amendment that would establish an eight state pilot program of state-run Head Start programs. While this was defeated, it is is a possibility that this idea could once again become a focus of the Republican dominated legislature. While the Head Start community is equipped with strong evidence of effectiveness and more and more programs already blend state and federal funds to serve low-income children, we will have to utilize our prior knowledge and congressional advocates in new ways to defeat similar proposals that emerge in the coming years. 

A Return to the George W. Bush Years… For the second time ever since 1929 (the beginning of the Great Depression),  the Republican Party will control the House, Senate, White House, most governorships and state houses, and will decide on a Supreme Court Justice. From 2005-2007, we also saw a Republican majority in the House and Senate, with President George W. Bush in the White House, and conservative Justice John Roberts appointed to the Supreme court.

The Bush years were a dark time for Head Start. Those of you that were working in the program likely remember the introduction of the PRISM as the on-site evaluation tool, the National Reporting System, and continued demands to provide “proof” of the value of Head Start and endless discussions around higher levels of accountability. Determinations of funding for programs were made in Washington, D.C rather than at the region level as were decisions about training and technical assistance. Head Start was held up in a stalled reauthorization and experienced flat-funding for several years, and ultimately a 1% budget cut, which represented the first time the Head Start budget was reduced since the program inception in 1965.  A proposal was also on the table to move Head Start from HHS to the U.S. Department of Education. This would have merged Head Start with state programs and imposed new academic standards on the combined program.

What now.. Trump and his Republican Congress will be in power for a minimum of four years. While the Republicans do control the White House and Congress, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will agree on everything. Also, we all know Trump is a bit of a wild card and has proposed child care tax cuts. Perhaps Head Start will also be supported. Any attempt to unravel institutions such as Head Start will take time and coordinated effort. There is no doubt that Head Start will face challenges and threats again. However, we are better prepared than ever to mobilize against them. The program has faced many challenges such as sequestration, expansion of competing programs that impact Head Start enrollment, Designation Renewal, and the Head Start Act. All of which have been navigated successfully.  We cannot forget that elected officials are also concerned due to a new sentiment about the power of “angry voters”.

How Can We Move Forward….. At Heartland we view sustainability differently than most other organizations. As a fund development organization our advice to programs is simply .. write more grants.  An aggressive fund development plan that prioritizes new programs and projects can offset shortfalls that you may experience in your base funding, be it Head Start, state preschool, or other community development block grant funding. The trick is to start early. Grant development takes time, effort and skill. Often you need to wait for funding to be released and determine if an opportunity is a good fit for your organization. In addition, you may need to apply for a grant more than once to be successful in obtaining funds. Despite these obstacles, the following grant guidelines will help you achieve sustainability in the coming years:  

-        Only submit proposals that are likely to be funded. There are two main strategies for submitting a high quality proposal 1) hire a grant writing firm to help you obtain funding or 2) invest in grant development training for your staff so that you do not incur grant development fees. Often this decision depends on your program funding streams and how they are restricted. For example, some programs can fund grant writing costs, which dramatically increases your chance of funding due to the experience of the grant writer, while other programs have more flexibility spending training and professional development funds that can be used to hire companies like Heartland to train your staff to write grants at a professional level.

-        Set a funding floor for the grants you will pursue. The grant funding floor is dependent on your total program budget, the availability of staff time, and the requirements of your funders. For example, it may not make a difference to have a $2,500 materials grant due to the level of staff time and effort required to implement the project. Heartland recommends pursuing multi-year grants that have a dollar floor minimum of $50,000 annually.

-        Include administrative and/or indirect costs in every grant budget. IDR costs can be recouped at 10% for federal proposals, even for institutions that do not have an indirect cost rate.

-        Include Cost of Living Adjustments in your proposals. It is likely you will not receive a COLA for a few years for Head Start programs, so look at sharing positions and build in a 3% COLA into annual salary costs.

-        Continually monitor the release of new funding opportunities. It is important to keep an open mind about the types of projects that you can take on over the next few years. When you are strategic planning, think about programs that could compliment your existing services. For example, currently there is a Farm to Table Grant that might be a good match for programs implementing CACFP and preschool programming. Make sure to put a process in place and assign a specific staff member to watch for new funding and track funding announcements.

Heartland is positioned to help all types of agencies attain sustainability from the start-to-finish of all funding cycles. We recently became certified in a new strategic planning method called Advanced Visual Facilitation. We are currently packaging strategic visualization consulting with our community assessment and fund development planning services. This allows Heartland to reduce the cost of the community assessment by paring it with other needed services. In addition, we are here to provide professional grant writing, grant development training, and other support for programs looking to incite change or strengthen their existing programs.


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