Head Start members speak up on new federal rules
Meeting during the annual MEA-MFT Committee Weekend in Helena December 4-5, members of MEA-MFT’s Head Start Program and Policy Council (PPC) put together a plan to mobilize around the upcoming federal “re-compete” process for Head Start grants.
Head Start members learned about the federal proposal through a webinar with AFT staff, who explained how unions and members can influence the rule-making process.
In the past, the grant process allowed Head Start programs to receive continued grant funding without competition except in cases of extremely poor performance.
As a result of Head Start reauthorization in 2007, the government will now require grantees to
re-compete for their Head Start grant, unless it determines that the grantee is providing quality comprehensive services.
Concerns include a federal proposal that an arbitrary 25 percent of Head Start grants be found deficient and subject to re-competition. A program could have just one problem, perhaps with financial management, while still providing a good child development program. Yet the whole program would be punished for one “bad apple.”
Head Start supporters are also concerned about how to protect current employees and collective bargaining rights if a grant is lost.
MEA-MFT’s Head Start PPC members agreed to inform other local members about the issue through 10-minute meetings. They also plan to send letters from local unions to the federal Office of Head Start and to contact Montana’s congressional delegation.
MEA-MFT President Eric Feaver sent an official letter to the Office of Head Start this December spelling out MEA-MFT’s concerns with the proposed rules.
“While MEA-MFT supports the idea of holding Head Start grantees accountable and making systemic improvements, we are alarmed at the notion of forcing an arbitrary number (25 percent) of Head Start grantees into re-competition,” Feaver wrote.
“In short, the changes appear to be designed to punish Head Starts, not to help them improve. The results could be disastrous for the children, families, employees, and communities that are currently served by Head Start.”
Instead, Feaver wrote, “MEA-MFT suggests that the Department work closely with Head Starts who are out of compliance or poor performers to help improve and provide resources to help the Head Starts meet performance standards. Additional program oversight and whistle blower protection for employees who report violations or problems would be an important first step in this regard.”
Stay tuned for more on this issue.