Preliminary Report: An Estimate of Infrastructure Needs in Head Start

One of the most pressing needs in Head Start today is an investment in infrastructure. Programs across the country are looking to expand duration in order to meet the needs of low-income working families. But they need additional classrooms to do so.

NHSA worked with top experts in architecture and construction consulting in order to come to an accurate, justifiable estimate of the infrastructure investment required to serve Head Start’s current population in safe, high quality learning environments. NHSA estimates that Head Start needs a $3.6 billion infrastructure investment. This funding would allow programs across the country to build facilities. It would also create jobs and stimulate local economies for years to come.

Head Start programs exist in every congressional district in the country. This funding would be a boost nationwide to workers, business-owners, and children and families alike. Download the preliminary report to learn more and explore the higlights below.

Analysis of Cost for Regional Programs

This infrastructure analysis assumes programs will need to build entirely new early childhood centers or additions onto their current centers. Based on the expert experience of RDG Planning & Design, which has significant experience constructing new Educare centers, the infrastructure team designed a model, high-quality facility based on Head Start requirements. A detailed description of this model facility can be found in Appendix A.

The model facility gives an estimate of 790 gross square feet per classroom alone or 2,000 net square footage per classroom including all additional required spaces and efficiency mark-up. The assumptions used in the creation of the model facility were validated by Head Start practitioners with recent experience constructing new facilities to ensure accuracy.

Running Cost Estimates

Once space needs were confirmed, construction costs were estimated using RDG Planning & Design and Clark Construction’s expert experience. An average construction cost of the space alone was determined to be $280 per square foot. On top of site are costs such as hiring an architect, project management and administration, and contingency. Standard industry expectations for these additional costs can be found in Appendix B.

Classroom Start-Up Supplies

The final piece of the new construction projects is to outfit each new classroom with the necessary start-up supplies. Complete classroom set-ups, confirmed across multiple educational retailers, are approximately $20,000 all included.

Land Allowance

In order to comply with all the regulations regarding indoor and outdoor square footage per child, programs will need to purchase additional land. Based on previous facility construction, the land allowance also assumes 0.2 acres of land needed per classroom, or that a new center with five classrooms and all associated spaces will need one acre of land. The total estimate for costs in the regional programs is $3,324,861,305.

Analysis of Cost for Migrant/Seasonal and American Indian/Alaska Native Head Start

Facilities for MSHS and AIAN programs can vary greatly depending on the location and population served, making the analysis conducted above less relevant for these programs. Additionally, these programs do not run double session classrooms the same way that regional programs do. Therefore, cost estimates for meeting infrastructure needs for MSHS and AIAN are instead determined by historical precedence. When extended duration funds were made available, 4.5% of the funds were set aside for MSHS programs and another 3.5% of the funds were set aside for AIAN programs. The same set-aside is included here.

The total estimate for the MSHS and AIAN set-asides is $162,629,086 and $126,489,289, respectively.


In order to better meet the needs of working parents, Head Start programs nationally need to build 4,378 classrooms in order to eliminate double sessions and instead provide full-day, full-year services. The total estimated cost of this infrastructure investment is $3,613,979,679. This investment will stimulate local economies, enhance infrastructure nationwide, and directly serve children and families who need it most.

This estimate accounts for the immediate need in classroom space due to programs previously running double session classrooms. Additional infrastructure needs stem from: (1) double sessions sharing a classroom but not a teacher, for which we do not have an accurate estimate; (2) Head Start classrooms previously located in public school buildings being asked to leave as universal preschool programs expand and need the classrooms; and (3) existing centers requiring standard maintenance and renovations.

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