Only 42 Percent of Eligible Children Participate in Head Start

Despite funding increases for Head Start over the past six years, only 42 percent of eligible children are now served, and just 4 percent of those eligible are served by Early Head Start, a report by the New York-based National Center for Children in Poverty and the Washington-based Center for Law and Social Policy states.

Head Start offers children ages 3 and 4 education as well as health and social services; Early Head Start offers similar benefits to pregnant women, infants, and toddlers. Although money for the programs got a $1.2 billion funding boost from 2006 to 2012, 33 states did not meet benchmarks for either class size or adult-to-child ratios, says the Nov. 14 report entitled “Investing in Young Children: A Fact Sheet on Early Care and Education Participation, Access and Quality.”

“Across the states, large numbers of low-income children who could get on a path to school success by attending a high-quality preschool program are denied this opportunity,” said Sheila Smith, the director of the organization, in a statement. “If you are a toddler or a 4-year-old who never gets off a waiting list, you’ve lost your chance to benefit from preschool.”

According to the report, only four states—Connecticut, North Dakota, Oregon, and Vermont—filled their classes.

Despite increases in funding, the barrier to participation is still money, said Sally Aman, a spokesman for the Alexandria, Va.-based non-profit National Head Start Association, which advocates for participation.

“Head Start programs have thousands of children across the country on their waiting lists that they would gladly serve,” she said in an interview, adding that the “recession has deepened the need.”

On the upside, 42 states and the District of Columbia now fund pre-K and/or supplement Head Start; 19 states have initiatives to expand Early Head Start, the report states.

That said, the report states that “these investments are too weak to benefit large numbers of young children experiencing the economic hardship and other circumstances that can pose serious risks to their health development and school success.”