Head Start is Universal

Earlier this year, Universal Pre-K became a major talking point in the state as part of a movement to ensure that all families have access to high-quality childcare and early childhood education. The Council is advocating for the integration of the Head Start model into the foundation of this expanded early childhood education initiative. Earlier this year the Council’s Executive Director Sharon Price, along with several other Community Action Executive Directors from across the state, met with Kentucky Lieutenant Governor Jacqueline Coleman to discuss the benefits of Head Start.

Of particular concern to the agency was the wider conversation around whether or not to maintain the “full utilization” clause of state laws surrounding Head Start.  The “full utilization” clause means that we cooperate with school districts and other early childhood education providers to ensure that all Head Start seats are filled before children are referred to other programs. Full utilization ensures federal resources are used first in all counties, maximizing the resources available at the state level and offering the state another avenue to leverage funds. Preserving the full utilization system already in place ensures that we are building out programming and moving forward together. It keeps millions of federal dollars in the state, targets families most in need of economic interventions, ensures that families who often have the least exposure to education and behavioral interventions have their needs met, and helps to mitigate the stigma associated with poverty.

A comprehensive early learning eco-system for the state that incorporates school districts, private and family childcare centers, and Head Start programs has the ability to increase family participation and maximize funding at all levels. By the numbers, Kentucky receives more than $185 million of federal funding every year through Head Start to equip nearly 18,000 young children for kindergarten and lifelong learning. By working together across the early childhood spectrum, we can maximize our dollars and the services available to everyone.

We believe that universal pre-K can be an important piece of the umbrella of early childhood education programming in the state along with Head Start, as well as a critical piece of economic infrastructure. Head Start’s model of family intervention and Community Action’s workforce development efforts operate in tandem to ensure job seekers and young families have access to the resources they need to enter or remain in the workforce.

At Community Action Council, we believe universal access to early education is not a luxury but a necessity. Research has shown that the first few years of a child’s life are critical for cognitive, emotional, and social development. Quality early education provides a strong foundation for lifelong learning, setting children on a path toward academic success, better health outcomes, and increased economic mobility.

As advocates for equal access to early education, we are committed to making Head Start truly universal. By investing in our children today, we are sowing the seeds of a more equitable, prosperous, and compassionate society tomorrow. Let’s rally around the idea that Head Start is universal and let that idea guide us in our mission to create a better world for all our children.

Check out our Look Who’s Talking podcast for all things Head Start.

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