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Mel Gravely

The Three Entities of Head Start/Early Head Start Program Governance Structure

We recently gave a free webinar on the three entities of Head Start/Early Head Start Program Governance Structure. (Sign up for our mailing list to receive notices about upcoming free webinars). In that webinar, we talked about the roles and responsibilities of each entity, as well as training and reporting requirements. Based on the questions we received during the webinar, this important topic is something that many agencies seem unsure about. We thought we would take a brief moment to recap the webinar and open up the blog for additional questions (leave your questions in the comments below).

Program Governance Entities Diagram
Program Governance Entities Diagram (click to enlarge)

The Head Start Act of 2007 is the primary document that outlines the composition and roles and responsibilities of HS/EHS agency governing bodies with regard to program design, planning, monitoring, and oversight. The Act, in conjunction with the Head Start Program Performance Standards, describes performance expectations regarding program management. Together, these documents define Head Start governance.

The three entities of Head Start/Early Head Start Program are the Governing Body or Tribal Council, Policy Council, and Management/Staff. Newly elected Governing Bodies and Policy Councils are required to receive training on their roles and responsibilities within 180 days of the start of their term.

Let’s take a look at each of the entities one by one.

Governing Body

Primary role of the Governing Body is to provide oversight and ensure that the program meets its legal and fiscal responsibilities and safeguards federal funds.

The Governing Body must include three separate individuals with background and expertise in fiscal management or accounting, early childhood education, and a licensed attorney familiar with issues that come before the governing body. In addition, the Governing Body must completely governance and leadership capacity screening within 60 days of the start of the five-year project period.

Policy Council

Primary role of the Policy Council is to represent parents and the community and make sure the decision makers consider their views about the program’s direction and future. The Policy council is the key conduit for supporting parent engagement in Head Start governance.

Policy Council must consist of at least 51% of parents of children who are currently enrolled in the program. Additional members can include members of the community served by the agency (including parents of children formerly enrolled). Policy council members must be re-elected yearly and can serve a maximum of five one-year terms. Nomination and election procedures can vary slightly by program, but should be clearly outlined in the Policy Council bylaws.

Note: To facilitate meaningful consultation and collaboration about decisions of the governing body and the policy council, each agency’s governing body and policy council jointly must establish written procedures for resolving internal disputes between the governing board and policy council in a timely manner that include impasse procedures. These should be clearly outlined in the agency’s bylaws.

Note: We received a lot of questions during the webinar about the number of members required to achieve a “quorum” (i.e. the number of members needed at a meeting to take valid action). There is no hard and fast rule here. In truth, what it takes to achieve a quorum varies by program (we’ve seen 50%, one-third, and other percentages based on parents vs. community members present). Typically, the more members of your policy council, the lower percentage you can tolerate. No matter what you choose, the quorum percentage should be clearly outlined in the agency’s bylaws and should be recognized at all meetings.

Management Staff

Primary role is to manage the day-to-day operations of the program and to implement the policies decided upon by the Governing Body and Policy Council.

Required Reports

According to Sec. 642 (d)(2)(A-I) of the Head Start Act, the Governing Body shall be responsible for establishing procedures and guidelines for accessing and collecting information described in that subsection. The Governing Body and Policy Council are then required to consider that information on a regular basis to assist in decision making.

  • Monthly financial statements, including credit card expenditures
  • Monthly program information summaries
  • Program enrollment reports, attendance reports for children
  • Monthly reports of meals and snacks
  • The financial audit
  • The annual self-assessment, any findings related to such assessment
  • The community-wide strategic planning and needs assessment, including any applicable updates
  • Communication and guidance from the Secretary
  • Program information reports

Do you feel like you understand the relationship between the three entities of Head Start Program Governance? Do you know the responsibilities of each entity? We’d love to hear from you! Leave your questions below!


  1. Jeffery Charleston, Jr says:

    I am familiar with the 3 entities of Headstart program governance and learning more and more every day!

  2. Marsha Ballenger says:

    I’ve been looking for guidance and instructions in the HS/EHS Center based programs.

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