Can Head Start and State Pre-Kindergarten Play Nice?Aug 2nd, 2012 | By Abigail Mackenzie Kerl
Educational Policy. 2012.
In her recent article, Daphna Bassok examined the relationship between Head Start, Early Head Start, and pre-k enrollment at the state level to determine whether the rise in state-funded pre-k negatively impacts participation in the Head Start program. Founded in 1965 as part of the War on Poverty, Head Start has historically been the, “primary public provider of early childhood education and care.”
Today almost 50,000 Head Start programs serve 900,000 low-income 3, 4, and 5-year-olds throughout the country. In addition to offering childcare, Head Start provides wraparound support for families, including health, and nutrition services.
Funding for early childhood education has changed dramatically in recent years, with states now providing the majority of funding for public preschool. Concurrently, enrollment in public preschool programs has more than doubled, growing from 1.2 million to 2.7 million children from 1990 to 2009.
Scholars have been wary of the effect that the burgeoning preschool movement would have on Head Start. Edward Zigler, Yale psychologist and a founder of Head Start, worried specifically that expanding preschools, “would create competition for children, teachers, funds, and facilities.”
Using national Head Start and pre-k enrollment data from 2002-2007 and controlling for community and child characteristics and average K-12 per-pupil expenditures, Bassok found no relationship between increased attendance at state-funded pre-K and decreased Head Start enrollment.
Instead, Bassok found that, on average, children enrolled in Head Start are younger in areas with available pre-k programs. Furthermore, as pre-k enrollment increased in an area, the percentage of children under age four served by Head Start also increased.
Based on this evidence, the author suggests, “Head Start programs may be repositioning themselves to provide programs for a population not typically served by the pre-k system.”
Bassok also found that the percentage of children who attended Head Start for two years (as 3 and 4-year-olds) did not decline, suggesting a higher percentage of children are served in communities where both Head Start and pre-k programs exist. In fact, larger pre-k programs are related to an overall higher rate of attendance at full-day programs.
These findings are key as state and federal policy makers continue to advocate for increased access to high-quality early childhood education and providers continue to proliferate. Understanding the role of state and federal programs will become increasingly important as new early childhood education systems are designed and existing providers seek to collaborate in an effort to reach more children.
Feature photo: cc/woodleywonderworks