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Mel Gravely

OHS Announces Full Enrollment Initiative

Last week, Office of Head Start (OHS) issued a program instruction on its website called the “Full Enrollment Initiative.” In it, OHS details its plans to ensure that each Head Start designee “enroll 100 percent of its funded enrollment and maintain active waiting lists at all times with ongoing outreach to the community and activities to identify underserved populations.”

While full enrollment has already been a requirement under Section 642(g) of the Head Start Act, enforcement has been inconsistent. So OHS has decided to make this a new priority.

Designees must already report enrollment numbers on a monthly basis. Now, if those reports show a pattern of underenrollment, that designee will face a probation period of sorts.

It works like this: If a program is underenrolled for four consecutive months, they receive a Chronically Underenrolled Designation Letter. That letter begins the process of developing a plan, in conjunction with the Regional Office, to help get that program back up to at least 97% enrollment for 6 consecutive months after a 12-month probationary period. If a program in unable to maintain their enrollment numbers, then “OHS has the authority to designate the agency as Chronically Underenrolled and take actions authorized under Section 641A(h)(5). These actions include recapturing, withholding, or reducing the annual funding and funded enrollment.” [emphasis added]

It’s important to note here that funding may not only be reduced, but “recaptured.” This means that a designee may have to pay back funding that it has already received for the year it was designated as Chronically Underenrolled. This could be a wake up call for agencies that might currently be underenrolled.

Luckily, OHS says that it’s not going to leave agencies to fend for themselves. In the recently released program instruction, OHS writes that “it is committed to continue to support agencies in achieving and maintaining full enrollment.”

Remember, whether at the national, regional, or local level, we all want the same thing. All Head Start staff want to serve as many kids as possible with the funding that is allotted. Therefore, agencies should view this as an opportunity to reevaluate their recruitment strategies, including reaching out to underserved populations as well as maintaining an up-to-date waiting list.

Have you heard about the 100% full enrollment initiative? We’d love to hear your thoughts! Leave them in the comments below.

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