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Not out of the Woods Yet! Designation Renewal and a Trend in Programs Going Back into Recompetition

by Andrea Abbott on 04/19/16

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. 

Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships Using Round 1 Results to Capture Round 2 Funding

by Andrea Abbott on 04/01/16

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 andrea@heartlandgrants.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. 

Is the Flint Water Crisis A Case of Structural Racism?

by Andrea Abbott on 03/08/16

Before I get going, I probably should define structural racism. It is the normalization and legitimization of several dynamics, (historical, cultural, institutional, and interpersonal) that provide an advantage to whites, while routinely creating cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color.

When I set about to wrap my mind around the government – created health crisis by contaminated water in Flint, MI I couldn’t help but think this avoidable disaster serves as a reminder of how racial differentiation is deeply embedded in our society.

Flint is not only impoverished, it is predominantly black. The particular kind of poverty that Flint residents experience is the definition of structural racism. For example, only 4% of the US population lives in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, yet these neighborhoods are almost all non-white. Using 2007-2011 census estimates, 3 out of 4 persons living in high-poverty neighborhoods with concentrated poverty were non-white. In Flint, the 2014 poverty rate reported from the U.S. American Community Survey was a whopping 41.6% and the racial-ethnic composition of the population was 56.6% Black or African American.

Flint residents not only live in high-poverty neighborhoods, but Flint is one of only two cities in the entire country with citywide levels of concentrated poverty. Poor neighborhoods have less tax base to fund local government and support public services and schools. Whereas poor residents in middle-class neighborhoods benefit from their neighbors resources at the neighborhood and community level, residents in high-poverty neighborhoods compound their shared disadvantage. In addition, as a result of concentrated poverty businesses flee, crime and vandalism increase, and predatory services such as check-cashing businesses proliferate. One of my colleagues recently told me that Flint does not even have a traditional grocery store.  Thus, concentrated poverty is not only a deprivation of resources, it also compounds into life-long disadvantages such as reduced rates of educational attainment, lower family incomes, higher unemployment, and poorer health.

In Flint, the state has played a shameful role. Even in the face of protesting residents and emerging evidence about the contamination of the water supply, the city council sought to switch water suppliers and abused their legitimacy as they insisted the local water was safe. Further, they spent time attacking the credibility of researchers questioning the state’s claims, while the population was being poisoned by lead. Local control and community health was sacrificed in the interests of budgetary savings. Rather than invest in the city and help restore is economic health, the state enacted the most punitive form of austerity on the population. Note - this is the problem with “running the country like a business”.

For a community with every disadvantage and obstacle to success, children suffering from lead poisoning can be expected to grow up with additional intellectual and behavioral problems. Given the cognitive impacts, these children may be less likely to graduate from high school, go to college, and may require greater special education needs in school. In fact, they may have greater behavioral problems deriving from lack of impulse control, and possibly greater crime as a direct consequence. These disadvantages will be carried onto the next generation, and beyond. Further, disadvantaged youth may well transmit their disadvantages to their children and beyond. Some researchers have found that lead poisoning in mothers has detectible effects on grandchildren.

While the health effects of the contaminated water did not create the disadvantages already existing in Flint it will certainly compound them. To me, this crisis is simply one more tragic example of the oppression and disadvantage still rampant in our society. The water crisis brings into light the ways in which state and local policies shape our life chances. It is clear, the problem runs deeper than water.

Next up is my take on Donald Trump and his views on race... 

2016 Republican Presidential Contenders Views on Early Education

by Andrea Abbott on 02/02/16

At Heartland, we have been asked about the potential status of early education and Head Start under a new President. This week we are examining the current Republican field, while next week we will look at the much smaller group of Democratic candidates. We started by examining voting records and anything the candidates had to say about our issue. This was challenging, as many have made no public statements about early education. In fact, only one candidate (Jeb Bush) has an early education plan.

Many of the candidates do not have broader Education Platforms, but that likely stems from the view that many Republican candidates take that education belongs at the state and not the federal level. Because of this, some US Senators have not yet developed positions on early education. In addition, candidates from the private sector have also not developed a position on early education.

Below we have summarized information we have found from candidate statements, websites, and governance records. 



Early Education Voting Record/ Statements on the Issue

Current Early Education Platform (Per Candidates’ Campaign Website)

Jeb Bush

As governor of Florida, Jeb Bush endorsed a ballot initiative that amended the state constitution to offer voluntary pre-K to every Florida 4-year-old. Following the initiative's passage, Bush signed legislation to create Florida's Voluntary Pre-K program- the 3rd Universal PreK program in the United States.

Governor Bush’s plan would allow states to give funds directly to parents and let them choose the type of early education that their children need (day, night, weekends, center-based, home-based, etc.), rather than the type a bureaucrat is offering: https://jeb2016.com/education/?lang=en


Ben Carson

No Voting Record. Mr. Carson has been noted as calling preschool programs “indoctrination.”

Education Platform focuses on K-12 and does not mention Early Education

Chris Christie

As a candidate for governor, Chris Christie infamously referred to the state's well-regarded preschool program as "babysitting." As governor, however, he has sustained support for preschool in New Jersey, although he has not followed through on his predecessor's commitments to expand preschool access.

Education Platform focuses on K-12 and does not mention Early Education

Ted Cruz

Senator Cruz has not really been forced to engage on early childhood education issues in the Senate, and hasn't developed an early education position.

No Education Platform

Carly Fiorina

No Voting Record. Ms. Fiorina has been quoted regarding her views on increased parent choice in schools, negative opinion of the Common Core, and need for free community college. There is no record of commenting on early education.

No Education Platform

Jim Gilmore

Governor Gilmore has been a proponent of higher education support for low income students, raising teacher pay, and voucher programs for Virginia schools. No record of specific support for early education.

No Education Platform

John Kasich

Governor Kasich has expanded state preschool as well. In June 2015, he signed a budget that increases Ohio preschool spending by $40 million to serve an additional 6,000 preschoolers.

Education Platform focuses on K-12 and does not mention Early Education

Rand Paul

Rand Paul is another Senator who has not had to significantly engage on early childhood education issues in the Senate, and hasn't developed an early education position.

Education Platform focuses on the elimination of the Common Core

Marco Rubio

Senator Rubio has expressed support for early childhood programs. While arguing programs would be better run by states,  he has not taken or supported any concrete policy actions.

Education Platform focuses on K-12 and does not mention Early Education

Rick Santorum

Santorum has gone on record as opposing “all these early starts and pre-early starts, and early-early starts. They want your children from the womb so they can indoctrinate your children as to what they want them to be. I am against that.” 

Education Platform focuses on the elimination of the Common Core

Donald Trump

No Voting Record. Mr. Trump has no stated no specific views on early education

No Education Platform


Future of Head Start:

               From the above chart, we can only extrapolate so much as to what the long term status of Head Start might be. Many candidates have discussed their desire to move the functions and funding of the federal Department of Education to the states, but that would not necessarily include Head Start. We can’t assume that a movement of the DOE would sweep all federal programs with an education component from other agencies.

Some candidates might consider moving Head Start to the states, but would have to grapple with grantees that manage programs that serve multiple states, as well as the fluctuation of poverty and redistribution of slots that do not follow state boundaries. Also, allocating slots to states would lead to the politicizing of slot distribution that should not become a part of Head Start- serving children in poverty should be about where the most unserved children live and where need exists, not what state didn’t receive its share of funding.

From the above chart we might assume a lack of interest in early education or education in general, but that is not a fair assumption either. There are many issues that impact our country. We would like the candidates to focus on ours, but not doing so does not indicate a cut or an elimination. However, we do need to be more vocal to bring our issues to the forefront and at least try to force candidates to think about early education as we ask for an answer. We all know that the country can’t have strong K-12 and higher education without early education, specifically Head Start so we need to force the conversation at some point in the election cycle! 

DRS and the CLASS Conundrum – Why All Programs Could Eventually Be in DRS

by Andrea Abbott on 09/16/15

Disclaimer – This blog is kind of like the manifesto that got Jerry MaGuire fired. First of all, I will say that I like the CLASS. It is a good measure of teacher – child interactions which is woefully needed to supplement the wide array of environmental rating scales that populate the field of early care and education. Secondly, it is reliable and valid and has made a huge difference in teacher practice, even with a relatively recent wide-scale implementation in Head Start.

That being said, I am skeptical of the way we are using all types of rating scales in Head Start. I am most critical of the high-stakes manner in which they are utilized. I am at heart, a sociologist and statistician and believe that rating scale criterion should not be seen as a checklist for classroom observation. Each dimension, criterion, or indicator (as they are referred to in an array of scales) interacts with other criterion in complex ways. Simply put, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Often, programs approach the CLASS from the standpoint of using only coaching and observations to facilitate program improvement and then are left wondering when they see no significant increase in CLASS scores. Part of the issue is that it is very difficult to observe outstanding practitioners and then attempt to transfer those characteristics to others. In fact, I spent several years as an early childhood education regional trainer for a large multi-national early care and education company and I am not convinced this is possible in any sphere.

One of the best features of the CLASS (and other rating scales) is that it can highlight very poor practice, but a rating scale alone cannot create excellence. Excellence is more than a narrow set of characteristics, and is often a result of a combination of practice and intention (motives matter). Trying to measure it doesn’t appear to lead to improved practice. It is when teachers understand and assign meaning and value to teacher – child interactions that practices are improved. That tells us something important about how to approach CLASS professional development. It also isolates the value of coaching and mentoring relationships as a means to improve performance.

Since DRS Cohort One, Heartland staff have tracked programs that enter into DRS and the reasons behind their entry. According to our data in DRS Cohort Four, 55 programs entered into DRS as a result of low CLASS scores, which comprises 63% of all grantees in the DRS system. Further, of these programs, 26 had no other non-compliances or deficiencies. The rate of programs in DRS due to CLASS in Cohort Four is higher than the rate of 51% for Cohort Three. That is not just higher, but significantly higher. 

As more programs enter into DRS for low CLASS scores, we thought it might be helpful to share some insights. Through our work with programs on DRS proposals we hear the backstory that led to a program’s placement into DRS. We are also privy to how they have addressed CLASS issues and non-compliance. Some of the issues that have impacted CLASS scores that we have heard while working with grantees include:

 - A large number of new staff

 - A large percentage of staff that speak English as a second language

 - Lack of understanding of the CLASS dimensions and criteria among staff

- Differences between the way that the federal CLASS review is conducted and the program’s method for conducting CLASS observations

- Recent staff turnover          

In addition, a number of programs report “we were just having a bad day” on the day of the federal CLASS observation. Many of us who started our careers as teachers know that preschool classrooms are impacted by just about anything. For example, the moods of staff and children, the weather, disruptions to the daily routine, changes to the environment and the list goes on… It goes without saying, any program can have a “bad day”. As a result, any program could potentially experience a poor CLASS review leading to entry into DRS.

One of the reasons that CLASS scores don't improve that we believe is missing from our list is “our training was not effective”. Additionally, in regard to training effectiveness, it is important to know which groups fail to improve skills and why. For example, was it Teacher Assistants? Was the training to difficult, unrelated, or did people "check out".  Below, we have compiled a few strategies we have learned from grantees we think are particularly helpful that can maximize the chances that programs will be able to achieve quality teacher-child interactions every day. We still think coaching is helpful, as are other forms of mentoring, training and observation. Also, we cannot stress enough the importance of using Teachstone's resources.  However, these strategies must be supplemented with something else that helps teachers change their habits internally for their own benefit as well as the children’s.


1)      Integrate CLASS dimensions directly into your curriculum. For example, post questions around the room that teachers can use that are directly aligned to dimensions in each CLASS domain. Also, include activities specifically designed to demonstrate the use of the practices captured in the dimensions and domains in your written curriculum plan. This will provide teachers a resource and guide for teacher-child interactions and create a multi-dimensional approach to practice improvements. It will also result in more “presence” for the teacher in their interactions with children.  If utilized with frequency, these practices will become easier for teachers to implement, turn into a habit, and will result in long –term improvements in overall teacher-child interactions.

2)       Provide cohort – based training. Provide training aligned to the specific needs of teachers with differing levels of experience and or similar areas of improvement. There is no recipe for success. Unfortunately, we are all a product of our training, experiences and modeled behavior. Just because teachers have a high level of education or the most experience does not necessarily mean they also have the best interactions with children. Train your staff using targeted methods to address low-scoring areas together and build a community that is aware of what best practices look like in the context of the typical learning environment. Eventually, the practices will turn into social norms that can be reinforced by staff collectively.

3)      This may seem like a no-brainer, but I have to include this tip for teachers. On the day of the CLASS observation, stick to easy to implement activities and familiar routines. For example, if you don’t facilitate cooking experiences with the children regularly, do not suddenly decide to cook on the day of your CLASS review. Also, respond to the needs of the children quickly. If you notice that children have lost interest in an activity move on to something different. In the spirit of being developmentally appropriate, it is more important that the daily schedule is consistent and predictably follows the same sequence of events, not that each activity lasts for a specific amount of time. Let your teachers know this is the time to be at their best, not the time to try new ideas and activities or to show how long they can engage children in pre-planned curriculum.   


We hope these tips are helpful and provide food for thought about how you can address the CLASS needs of your program holistically. Also, if you have devised a strategy for use in your program that has been particularly effective, please share it with us! We know that many of you have mastered the CLASS and the entire field can surely benefit from your insight.


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