I was excited to attend a rally that the National Head Start Association sponsored at the end of September. The event united hundreds of parents and Head Start teachers, staff, and supporters from across the country to make the case for increased funding for Head Start.
Head Start has provided early learning opportunities for millions of low-income preschool-age children and their families since 1965 when it was launched as part of President Johnson’s Great Society. Since its beginning, Head Start has retained the key elements that make it work, while continuing to make improvements based on research and lessons learned over the course of the years of implementing the program—as demonstrated by the new Head Start Performance Standards issued in 2016.
Recognizing the importance of addressing all aspects of children’s development, Head Start provides comprehensive early education, health and mental health, nutrition, and other support services for children.Head Start also helps parents by encouraging their involvement in their children’s education and connecting parents with education, training, and job opportunities to allow them to become self-sufficient. As a result, parents are better able to support their children’s learning and support them financially. A dad who spoke at the rally said, “I don’t call Head Start, ‘Head Start’—I call it ‘Parent Start’” because Head Start showed him how to better nurture and support his children.
Research shows that low-income children are at risk of starting kindergarten behind their peers, but Head Start can help them catch up in both their academic and social skills. Head Start alumni are more likely to graduate high school, attend college, and find employment than children who did not attend Head Start.
Despite the program’s benefits, Head Start serves only about half of preschoolers and Early Head Start serves only about 7 percent of infants and toddlers due to insufficient funding. To give all children a chance to succeed, Head Start funding must be a priority. We have to continue the work that the #FamiliesUnite rally started by asking Congress to increase funding for this program that is so crucial for children and families.