Tuesday, June 8th, 2010 - 6:00
Friday, June 4, 2010 - 08:57
Head Start needs better management information to ensure that the children and families enrolled in its programs are getting services.
There’s been lots of good news for the nation’s Head Start program. The federal government has already awarded some 93 percent of the $1.5 billion that was designated for expansion of Head Start and Early Head Start. That money has been split into 832 grants, designed to serve some 59,000 children and families. Programs devoted to infants, toddlers and pregnant women are getting an extra boost.
So, what are the results? Hold your horses. There’s a big difference between money that’s been allocated and money that’s actually been spent. The recent Recovery Act report from the Government Accountability Office noted that by the end of March 2010, grantees had actually drawn down only 10 percent of the $713 million in first year awards. Among the reasons for the delays are computer glitches, clerical problems, and time consuming audits of new grantees.
Even when the money does roll out, the GAO points out another significant issue: Head Start’s data focuses on enrollment, not on attendance. Data on attendance is only required at the annual review, not in the monthly reports required by the Office of Head Start. You can easily see the problems with that. It would be like car dealers getting credit for every test drive they give, without paying attention to the number of cars actually sold.Writes the GAO: “The discrepancies between definitions of enrollment and provision of services may be a reason why expansion grantees’ drawdown of awarded funds has lagged behind reported enrollment.”
The GAO report argues that a better measure of services provided, rather than just enrollment is critical for understanding the impact of the program. “Under the current definition of ‘enrollment’, grantees – particularly those experiencing obstacles in start-up – could reasonably report full enrollment, while some classrooms sit empty, perhaps due to licensure or other delays.”
The GAO’s analysis of the Head Start management information issues comes from its May 2010 Recovery Act report. Details are on pages 163 to 185.