In May of 1965, President Lyndon Johnson announced Project Head Start. Head Start was part of Johnson’s War on Poverty, which embodied a basic belief that education was the solution to poverty.
It began as an 8 week demonstration project. In 1977, under the Carter administration, Head Start began bilingual and bicultural programs in about 21 states. Eighteen years later, in1995 under the Clinton administration, the first Early Head Start grants were given to provide high quality child development and family services to income eligible pregnant women and families of very young children.
Head Start was most recently reauthorized again in 2007, under the George W. Bush administration, with several provisions to strengthen Head Start quality. The statute also included a provision that regulations be promulgated to move programs from an indefinite project period to a five-year grant cycle. In 2009, under the Obama administration, the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act added more than 64,000 slots for Early Head Start and Head Start programs.
In recent years, Head Start has served as a successful, comprehensive model for states in developing high quality pre-kindergarten systems. Additionally, Head Start’s unique shared governance structure provides a model to promote meaningful partnerships with families. Each program has a Policy Council that includes parents of children in the program and makes policy decisions together with staff.
Most children in NH Head Start attend 5 days a week for part of the day. Children and families receive an array of comprehensive supports and services. The top two services families receive are parenting and health education.
Pregnant women also receive a variety of supports and services. Included are coordination of prenatal and postpartum health care, dental and mental health services and follow up (substance abuse prevention and treatment), prenatal education on fetal development, information on the benefits of breastfeeding, emergency/crisis intervention, and others.
In New Hampshire, Head Start grew from 1,267 enrolled children in 1997 to more than 1,900 children enrolled today. New Hampshire is funded to serve 1,764 children and their families at any given time, but actual enrollment can be much higher. However, far too many eligible children are not served due to lack of funding:
• Nationally, it is estimated that Head Start serves less than 40% of eligible children and their families, and Early Head Start serves less than 4% of eligible infants and toddlers.
• New Hampshire Head Start serves only about 18% of eligible children aged birth to five years and their families.
State funding for Head Start was eliminated by the NH Legislature in the last budget.
Recent research has shown what the Head Start community has long observed: Head Start works! Not only does it promote gains in children’s learning and development , Head Start also is associated with improved children’s health, promotes family self sufficiency, and is cost effective.
Has Head Start had an impact on your life? We would love to hear your story!
New Hampshire Campaign Director
Every Child Matters Education Fund