Navigating Negotiations: What you need to know to negotiate your Head Start Grant : Head Start in 2019
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Navigating Negotiations: What you need to know to negotiate your Head Start Grant

by Andrea Abbott on 06/08/16

It is exciting (and for those in DRS, a relief) when you finally receive notification from the Head Start Regional Office that you have been selected for a grant award. However, the negotiation process can be stressful and grantees are frequently asked to shift funds between Head Start and Early Head Start to meet a certain enrollment target or cost-per-child. The Office of Head Start may also make a request requiring you to change the program design or serve less or more children that you proposed to serve in your grant application. To navigate the negotiation process successfully, it is important to gather some initial information and employ a few basic negation techniques that can help you understand the type of cost-per-child you should be able to receive. 

1.     Gather Benchmark Data: The cost-per-child is the amount that you will receive for each HS/EHS slot. The average cost-per-child differs according to each grantee and is based on numerous factors such as program design and geographic location. According to national reports, the average cost per EHS slot is $10,500 and the average cost for HS slots is $8,147 (NIEER, 2015 Preschool Yearbook). At Heartland, we see a range of costs and are often surprised when one grantee in a service area has a cost-per-child significantly higher or lower than a peer program located in a different, but similar service area within a state. It is difficult to determine the cost-per-child and it has become even more difficult due to lack of transparency from the Office of Head Start, the combining of Head Start and Early Head Start grant funds, and the proliferation of blended funding. Heartland has been working with federal grants for over 15 years and frequently utilizes our data sources and federal grant information databases along with program information reports to learn the amount that the Office of Head Start is paying a grantee per-child. However, the process does not work for every grantee. If you are interested in talking with us to obtain a cost-per child for a specific service area, please feel free to contact us at This typically only takes a few minutes and we are happy to help you free of cost.  We have also compiled a cost-per-child for each state using the 2015 Head Start funding levels. 

2.     Justify and Defend Your Costs: Understand why your cost-per-child may be higher or lower than average and create a written justification for your cost proposal. For example, if the state Quality Rating System or your licensing standards require a lower ratio than found in the Head Start Program Performance Standards or if you have a third staff person in each classroom, your cost-per-child may be higher than average. Providing transportation also drives up your cost-per-child. Analyze your costs and decide in advance what you are willing to give up to meet the Region’s request. Avoid having a debate over the phone with your Region Program Officer about whether transportation or a third person in the classroom is the most pressing need. Also, don’t be afraid to express your disappointment as in many negotiations, this can be one factor that leads to larger concessions.

3.     Dictate the logistics – Those of you that have entered into negotiations will be familiar with a scenario in with the Region will ask you to make a change to your program, and then request an amended application within a very short timeframe (typically 48 hours). If you need more time to make an educated decision ask for it. This will help you avoid a situation that results in an under-funded program model. Take the time you need to assess all the possible costs and unintended consequences of a program change. 

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State Head Start Cost Per Child 
Click here to download our analysis.