Officials with the federal agency in charge of the Head Start said they tried for years to find someone to take over the programs in Barton, Pawnee, Rice and Stafford counties, only to no avail. Now, with the services ceasing at the end of this school year, it is too late for anyone to step in and take over.
So, when the doors close May 23, they will not be available to young children and their families come the following school year, said Pat Fisher, spokesperson for the Human Service’s Administration for Children and Families Office of Head Start. The program is closing because no organization applied to provide the services in this area.
The four counties are currently served by the McPherson office of the Denver-based Community Development Institute Head Start. But, this was only a temporary, interim solution, Fisher said.
The closure impacts Head Start locations located: In Great Bend at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 3400 21st St.; in Larned at Larned Head Start Preschool, 1024 Broadway; in Lyons at Lyons Head Start, 508 East Ave. South; and in Stafford at 318 E. Broadway.
Currently, there are 23 staff serving the Head Start programs in the four counties. Of the currently enrolled children, 45 were eligible for Head Start services next year, and thus impacted by the program’s closing.
Head Start promotes school readiness of children ages birth to 5 years old from low-income families. This leaves 26 Head Start programs in Kansas serving the rest of the state.
A long search
Fisher said there has been a long, extensive search for a replacement. “OHS has published funding announcements in this service area on six separate occasions, between June 2013 and June 2018.”
And, no organization in the last eight years has applied. The opportunities are posted on the ACF website, and organizations can search for OHS forecasted opportunities at Grants.gov.
In addition, “OHS held multiple community outreach meetings, as well as engaged with local agencies to encourage eligible organizations to apply for Head Start funds. However, no applications to provide Head Start services in south central Kansas were received as a result of any of the funding opportunity announcements.”
So, in short, “it is too late at this time (for an applicant),” Fisher said. “However, the Office of Head Start at HHS’ Administration for Children and Families will be posting statewide funding opportunities in the future and at that time any entity can apply to serve Head Start eligible children in these communities.”
The exact timing of the next statewide announcement has not been determined, he said.
What about CDI Head Start?
Head Start programming in the area has been carried out by CDI Head Start. It would have continued until a formal competitive process determined a grantee and ACF awarded a contract.
But, technically, CDI Head Start is not eligible to be a Head Start grantee, Fisher said. It just has an ongoing relationship with the ACF to provide services on an interim basis in where there is no currently designated provider.
Since no organization has applied, ACF cannot continue to fund CDI Head Start as the provider.
What does it take?
According to Fisher, a wide variety of entities can apply to be a Head Start provider. But, the application process is competitive and extensive.
Eligible agencies are listed on the ACF Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center website at eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov.
Among these are:
• County governments
• City or township governments
• Independent school districts
• Public and state controlled institutions of higher education
• Native American tribal governments (federally recognized)
• Public housing authorities/Indian housing authorities
• Nonprofits having a 501(c)(3) status with the IRS, other than institutions of higher education
• Private institutions of higher education
• For-profit organizations other than small businesses
• Small businesses
The agency first indicates funding will be available through an announcement on the HHS’s Grants Forecast website. Here, one can search by agency to view planned ACF funding opportunities. Opportunities are subject to change based on government funding.
When funding is available and ACF is ready to accept applications, it will issue a Funding Opportunity Announcement, which is also available on Grants.gov, the same place where applications are submitted.
Each announcement will include a due date of not less than 60 days from the posting. Applications must be submitted electronically and received and validated through the Grants.gov system by the deadline to be considered in the competitive process.
About Head Start
Head Start supports children’s development by preparing them for school and beyond, health screenings and nutrition, and support of parents and families.
Delivered through 1,700 agencies in local communities, programs provide services to over a million children every year. More than 80 percent of children served were 3- and 4-year-olds. Born out of President Lyndon B. Johnson “War on Poverty,” the first Early Head Start grants were given in 1965. Head Start has served over 32 million children since then.