New Policy Brief: States Can Use Ready-Built Support to Close Service Gaps

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Head Start Association (NHSA) and Voices for Healthy Kids, an initiative of the American Heart Association, today released an issue brief detailing the variety of ways state lawmakers fill critical service gaps for children and families by investing in Head Start programs.

The brief, More Important than Ever: State Investments in Head Start and Early Head Start to Support At-Risk Children and Families, compiles and distills information gathered directly from state government partners and state Head Start associations. It outlines the flexible ways states are committing over $400 million each budget cycle in state funding to the community-run comprehensive birth to age five programs specifically designed to strengthen families, promote school readiness, and improve child health.

“Head Start programs support more than 1 million children and families each year in all 50 states on their paths to success, but millions of others are left out due to limited funding,” NHSA Executive Director Yasmina Vinci said. “At the same time, communities are grappling with a rising crisis of at-risk young children and families. Fourteen states already lead the way by partnering with Head Start programs to provide critical health, nutrition, education, and family support services to thousands of more children. It is important that states invest in this ready-built solution that exists in their own backyards, helping children and families realize their potential.”

“Expanding Head Start programs in states ensures more children have what they need to grow up healthy,” said Voices for Healthy Kids Vice President and Executive Director Lori Fresina. “This includes education and social supports, as well as nutrition and physical activity through Head Start programs.”

While state investments vary from just $500,000 to more than $50 million, the brief demonstrates how any level of funding has the ability to amplify the reach of Head Start, allowing it to serve an additional 25,000 children nationwide with health, nutrition, education, and family support services, and improve the quality of existing slots to better meet the needs of kids and parents.

Over 20 national and state partners serve on an NHSA-led and Voices for Healthy Kids-support coalition working together to expand Head Start to more children birth to age five.

“State funding for Head Start in Minnesota allows more vulnerable children and their families to have access to the program’s high quality, comprehensive services,” Minnesota Head Start Association Executive Director Joelle Hoeft said. “By building on the statewide Head Start infrastructure already in place, state investments efficiently and effectively prepare more Minnesota children for future success in school and in life.”

“Early Head Start plays a critical role in the development of young children facing the greatest challenges but data show that the program only reaches 8% of eligible infants and toddlers, with a large variation in access among states,” ZERO TO THREE’S Director of State Policy Jamie Colvard said. “Expanding the availability of EHS will take cooperation and investment from policymakers and communities. We are excited to see so many states already taking strides to improve outcomes for young children through this critical program and encourage other states to follow their lead.”

“Programs like Head Start and Early Head Start are critical in breaking the cycle of poverty for many children and families, and in strengthening state economies,” Save the Children Action Network’s Senior Director of State and National Campaigns Kimberly Robson said. “I am encouraged to see state lawmakers investing in such programs, especially because more funding is needed to bridge the gap that unfortunately excludes millions of eligible children and families each year.”

About NHSA

The National Head Start Association is committed to the belief that every child, regardless of circumstances at birth, has the ability to succeed in school and in life. The opportunities offered by Head Start lead to healthier, empowered children and families, and stronger, more vibrant communities. NHSA is the voice for more than 1 million children, 270,000 staff and 1,600 Head Start grant recipients in the United States. ••• Media Contact: Emily Wagner, Director of Communications, media@nhsa.org

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