Earlier this month the Administration for Children and Families released final changes to the Head Start Performance Standards, the rules that govern the operation of Head Start programs. Because Head Start programs serve more than 1 million children, these new regulations could have big impacts on early childhood programs across the country.
The most dramatic change is an increase in the minimum number of hours that children spend in Head Start programs: Currently, Head Start programs must serve preschoolers for at least 3.5 hours a day and 128 days a year. Starting in 2019, however, at least half of Head Start preschoolers must be enrolled in programs that offer at least 1,020 hours of instruction a year – more than double the current minimum. By 2021, all Head Start preschoolers must be enrolled in longer programs. The regulations give programs some flexibility to adjust their schedules to match local public schools or offer shorter programs if they better meet the needs of children and families, but overall, the new rules should significantly increase the amount of time children spend in Head Start.
The new rule also requires changes in numerous other areas of Head Start’s education, family services and operations, including changes to curriculum, teacher professional development and services for dual language learner students.