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.
On May 26th, the Fifth Cohort of Head Start grantees designated to compete for funding was released (click here to view). This list included 12 programs, which is significantly fewer than in past years. The programs are from 10 states as follows: California (1); Colorado (1); Illinois (1); Kansas (2); Maryland (1); Michigan (1); Oklahoma (1); Pennsylvania (1); Texas (1); and Virginia (1)
This release follows an earlier list of 10 service areas that were posted during the months of March, April and May. According to our analysis, most of the programs included in Cohort five have CLASS scores that are in the lowest 10% of all grantees or scores that do not meet the threshold for 2015. While several programs have also met specified conditions that trigger their entry into recompetition we continue to be concerned that CLASS plays such as large role in programs’ entry into DRS. The following reasons underscore our opinion on this issue:
- CLASS is a valid measure but the way the OHS is using it is not reliable. In order for the CLASS to be scientifically reliable for identifying the lowest quality programs in the country OHS would need to observe all programs every year using the same federal review process. This activity would produce data necessary to determine which programs are truly in the lowest 10% in the nation in regard to their CLASS scores. The way the current system is implemented the scores could skew based on the random sample of programs that are monitored during the federal review process. For example, if the programs reviewed in a given year were all high performing it would skew the CLASS scores higher, thus increasing the minimum threshold for all programs. If a program does not meet this threshold it does not necessarily mean that the program has the lowest quality among all programs.
- There is no guarantee that new Head Start grantees have higher CLASS scores or more experience than programs that lose their grant due to recompetition. In many cases, programs that enter the designation renewal system have lost their grants to programs with less experience. This is becoming more and more frequent. One trend to watch is the degree to which new grants are awarded to child care partners associated with the Early Head Start - Child Care Partnerships program as the Early Head Start – Child Care Partnerships program is expanding the Head Start program into new communities and new types of entities. This is increasing the number of agencies that have experience with the Head Start program which can earn you valuable scoring points on the recompetition grant narrative.
- Other early intervention preschool programs are not held to this standard. Let me qualify this point by saying that, yes Head Start is the “gold standard” of early education programs and should be held to a higher level of accountability due to the vulnerable nature of the children served and the level of federal investment in Head Start. However, the field has not defined the “essential elements” of high quality preschool programs in a manner that has been scientifically validated. We do know about key features of effective interventions, but we do not know “what works, under what conditions, for which children”. Using CLASS to recapture funding is putting the cart before the horse.
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 email@example.com. 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.
Heartland has assisted many programs in successfully retaining their grant funds after being placed in recompetition and regularly studies recompetition trends and the impact of the designation renewal system. One recent trend we have noticed is that in the time between when a program’s DRS proposal is submitted and the funding decision announcement some programs are being placed back into recompetition. The most frequently cited reasons are related to lack of child supervision, unusual incidents that trigger DRS entry, and lack of ability to resolve prior findings (often financial issues) with the Office of Head Start.
In March, Funding Opportunity Announcements for Head Start and Early Head Start replacement grantees for 10 areas were announced (with a due date of 5/9/2016). While some of these areas are open due to issues such as a desire on the grantee to relinquish a Head Start grant, several of these are the result of new findings or lack of a qualified applicant submitting an application to provide Head Start and Early Head Start services. This also occurred during DRS cohort three and four. For those of you that were placed in DRS Round 4, it is especially important to continue to address and monitor not only the issues that resulted in entry into recompetition, but to maintain the highest level of quality you have ever achieved while you are waiting for your funding decision.
The Department of Health and Human Services recently announced the next round of Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships (EHS-CCP) and Early Head Start expansion funding announcements will be released on May 2, 2016 with a due date of July 1, 2016. Even though the application has not yet been released there are several things that you can be doing to ready your program to submit a grant proposal. But first, we want to let you know about a few important points to consider before we dive into our tips for getting started:
- The HHS forecast estimates 75 awards will be made (compared to almost 300 in round 1). During the last round of EHS-CCP funding more than 600 applications were submitted. That means that just 12.5% were actually funded. We anticipate that round 2 will be very competitive, especially now that there is additional training available and providers can access more information about what the program entails.
- $135 million is available with an estimated award ceiling of $5M and an award floor of $750,000. Last round, the average grant award was $1.8M. The last round of EHS-CCP funding also proposed an award floor of $750,000. This means that the average grant award in round 2 will be similar and the HHS is likely looking to achieve economy of scale by continuing to encourage providers to apply for at least 72 slots. We did hear some rumbling that this round would be more amendable to EHS expansion, but we won’t know anything for sure until we see the FOA.
- 61% of all grants awarded were for EHS-CCP only, 33% were for EHS-CCP and EHS expansion, and just 6% were for EHS expansion only. Consider these percentages when you are planning your project design to make sure you balance out your desire to expand EHS with the intent of the EHS-CCP funding to improve quality and child care access for low-income working families.
One of the most effective ways to improve your chance of attaining EHS-CCP funding is to start on your application early. The three suggestions below will ensure you are off and running well before the application is released.
Step 1: Download the grant application from the last round and review the criteria. If you email firstname.lastname@example.org we are happy to send you a copy of the FOA from EHS-CCP round 1.
Step 2: Decide on your program models. Look at the needs in your community and determine if the best fit for your program and agency is to only apply for EHS-CCP, or to apply for EHS-CCP and EHS expansion, or for EHS expansion slots only.
Step 3: Decide on a grant writing strategy. Will you write the grant using your existing staff or will you contract out. There are many things to consider as you make this choice. For example, you will need to ensure that your staff have the time and resources to fully develop a competitive application. Also, it is important that there is a project lead that can make sure all the pieces of the grant come together according to your work plan. If you are planning to hire a grant development firm, Heartland is happy to help! During round 1 of EHS-CCP Heartland worked with agencies to capture more than $14M in EHS-CCP grant funds. This included providing planning, design, start-up support, and full grant writing services from start-to-finish for both large and small grantees. We are an experienced firm that can give you an edge over the competition.