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Mel Gravely

Head Start recompetition: when one door closes, another one opens

In a recent story in The Blade, board members of the  Economic Opportunity Planning Association (EOPA) questioned how the agency is preparing to reapply for a $13 million grant to continue running its Toledo Head Start agency.

Due to the Head Start Recompetition Process, EOPA was recently notified by the federal government it will have to compete for funding if it wants to continue to administer Head Start locally.

There is nothing unusual with this story until what happened next. EOPA board members decided to go into a closed-door session to discuss the previously released grant criteria. Many other local for-profit entities, including the Toledo Public Schools are expected to apply.

It turns out the EOPA executive board’s request for a closed-door session to discuss public matters is a violation of Ohio’s” Sunshine Law, meaning state law requires open public meetings. In addition, entering a closed executive session can only happen legally with a roll call vote. A reporter from The Blade who was present objected to EOPA’s closed meeting and filed a lawsuit for holding what was deemed an illegal executive session.

These types of actions are likely happening around the country. There are benefits to recompetition of existing Head Start agencies that could use a restart. The 132 Head Start grantees programs in question have identified deficiencies and because of that, may now lose funding. Yes, there is a threat to both jobs and students served in these programs. However, these concerns neglect a fundamental point. This is a “recompetition.” Current grantees are not simply being de-funded. They are recompeting for their grants against other potential providers who may come forward. The whole point is to identify the best available provider to continue delivering top services to children and communities–not to cut services.

If anything, many communities are concerned that not enough low-performing Head Start grantees will lose funding, because there is a lack of quality providers with the capacity to replace them.

Without the recompetition for grants of existing Head Start providers, there is no sustained effort to identify and build the capacity of high-performing providers to compete for Head Start grants, which carry an array of very complex requirements.

What are your thoughts –will recompetition of these 132 grantees create higher quality pre-school programs for Head Start?

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