Longer days ahead for low-income preschoolers

The new standards come with new challenges in Idaho.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced new performance standards for all Head Start programs across the country. New guidelines for Head Start mean longer days and school years are ahead for some of Idaho's low-income pre-schoolers.

“What the Office of Head Start is saying is that we now need to offer full-day, full-year care,” said Lisa Brown, executive director of Friends of Children and Families, which operates Head Start programs in Ada and Elmore counties. “Right now we offer part-day preschool for children, typically four hours a day.”

Head Start programs in Idaho help more than 5,000 low-income kids attend pre-school at no cost, serving the neediest of the needy in 40 counties across the state. The new guidelines state that by 2021, all Head Start students across the country will be required to accrue 1,020 hours of class time each year.

“It's in everybody's best interest to have kids ready for school,” said Bill Foxcroft, the executive director for Idaho Head Start Association. “We know if kids are behind when they start school it's likely they're going to stay behind all the way through. So the key is to have those kids from low income backgrounds be as ready for school as kids from higher income backgrounds.”

The changes would mean a jump from four- to six-hour school days and a longer school year.

“I would say the biggest challenge is the dollars,” said Brown. “Right, now we have double sessions. In the morning we have a classroom and in the afternoon we have a classroom.

Currently, the morning and afternoon classes share a classroom.

“If we switch to six hours the ability to do that would no longer exist, so we would have to find additional locations in order to keep the amount of slots for children that we have in order to provide that service,” said Brown.

Head Start in the Treasure Valley is actively looking for additional classroom space in preparation for the changes. But Foxcroft says all of this depends on federal funding for years to come.

“We have to match the full day, the longer duration with the funding in order to not drop the kids,” said Foxcroft.

These new duration standards will be rolled out within the next five years. Foxcroft says in the meantime, Head Start will look to Congress for additional federal funding. The hope is for a smooth transition to full-time preschool without having to leave any of Idaho's kids behind.

Copyright 2016 KTVB


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