Multiple media outlets in the Louisville area have reported on recent actions by the Jefferson County Board of Education to drop its $15 million federal grant and back away from operating the Head Start preschool program in Louisville. The board also voted to move those Head Start preschoolers over to the district’s separate, state-funded preschool program (see here and here for examples.
Well, that JCPS plan might just run afoul of state law.
Last year, the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission issued a report from its Office of Education Accountability (OEA) titled “Preschool Program Review And Full-Day Kindergarten.” On Page xi in this report, the OEA says:
“In establishing Kentucky’s state-funded preschool program, the General Assembly intended for state-funded preschool to not supplant Head Start funding and for Head Start to continue serving the number of eligible 4-year-olds that it served in 1989. KRS 157.3175 requires that each school district’s preschool proposal include a certification from the local Head Start director that the Head Start program is ‘fully utilized.’”
So, state law mandates that the Head Start program is fully utilized before kids start to be admitted to the state-funded program. Thus, it appears the JCPS Board’s plan to transfer kids from Head Start to the state-funded preschool will run into trouble with the laws regarding Kentucky’s state-funded preschool program.
There is another question raised by all of this Head Start action in Louisville. We checked with Head Start staffers in Washington, and local media reports confirm, that Head Start won’t go away, at least not permanently, in Louisville. Head Start will find a new contractor to administer the program, and at least one prospective contractor has already surfaced.
But, with JCPS summarily dumping their grant to run the program, does that mean that Head Start operations are suspended until that new contractor gets up to speed?
If the Head Start folks in Washington had fired JCPS, it seems likely they would have kept the district in control long enough to ensure continuity of service. But, JCPS just quit, first. Does this leave kids in the lurch, at least in the short term?
So far, we’ve seen no media discussion of this Head Start transition issue, but it is important in regards to KRS 157.3175. If Head Start isn’t running, JCPS could argue, in a sense, that the program is fully utilized as there is no program available to be used at all; and they could, for a short period, perhaps justify adding kids to the state-funded program.
But, it is clear that Head Start isn’t going away, and once it is back on line (if indeed it pauses operation for even a short period), then JCPS would not be able to certify that Head Start is fully utilized if those kids remained in the state-funded program. That will be a violation of the law.
So, folks on the JCPS Board, what is your full transition plan for Head Start? Are you going to just allow Head Start to crash, or will you stay on board until a new contractor is ready? And, how are you going to continuously comply with KRS 157.3175 in the long term? The preschoolers and parents of Jefferson County await some leadership on this.