"Extended Duration" refers to lengthening the hours of services that Head Start offers individual children and their families, with the goal of increasing children's learning and developmental outcomes by providing more hours of high-quality learning experiences. Longer hours also support families who are working or in school to pursue self-sufficiency while resting assured that their children are in safe and nurturing early learning environments.
In summer 2015, the Office of Head Start released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for the Head Start Performance Standards with many research-based updates and revisions to improve the overall ease of use of the Standards. One of the changes proposed would require all Head Start services for three and four year olds to be center-based for 6 hours per day, 180 days per year unless a program was approved to offer a locally-designed option. About half of Head Start slots already meet that proposed standard, but the others are set up through part-day, home visiting, combination, or locally-designed options. The Office of Head Start estimated that this change would be the primary driver of the $1.1 billion cost to implement the proposed Standards.
In response to the NPRM, NHSA recommended that extending duration be treated as a goal rather than a requirement, both because without new funding the change would mean reducing access and because Head Start programs have always designed their services based on community need and some families need or want part-day or home visiting services for their children. NHSA's formal comments, supported by every state and regional association and hundreds of programs and individuals, proposed that extended duration call for 1,020 hours of services per year rather than a particular numbers of hours and days in order for programs to have the flexibility to meet local needs. See NHSA's Crosswalk of Standards and Policies on Full Day Head Start for a comparison of the current Standards, the NPRM, NHSA's comments, and the Program Instruction.
Responding to powerful advocacy from the Head Start community, Congress acknowledged both the importance of increasing duration and concerns about having to reduce access to critical services to implement duration expansion. For 2016, Congress appropriated $294 million as a down payment to help programs increase the hours of services they offer. The President's 2017 budget requested an additional investment of $292 million to enhance quality in Head Start.
The Program Instruction "Supplemental Funds Available to Extend Duration of Services in Head Start and Early Head Start" (ACF-PI-HS-16-02) spells out which Head Start and Early Head Start grantees are eligible to apply for this funding and the mechanisms for doing so. The Program Instruction allows eligible Head Start programs to apply for funding to lengthen the program day or year to move toward having 40% of their slots in 1,020 hour program models. Programs currently operating less than 100% of their center-based Early Head Start slots in models that offer 1,380 hours of services may also apply, though this affects a small fraction of programs as most have been full-day since Early Head Start's inception. Both Early Head Start and Head Start grantees can apply to extend hours in family child care settings to 1,380 hours if they do not do so already. NHSA is gratified that the input from the Head Start field has been reflected in the definition of expanded Head Start services as 1,020 or more hours per year.
The Final Rule on the Head Start Performance Standards is separate from the Program Instruction and is expected some time this summer. There are no guarantees what will be included in the Final Rule, but the Program Instruction is a good indicator that field input submitted in response to the NPRM has been carefully considered in the crafting of extended duration efforts. NHSA looks forward to reviewing the new Standards.