Increased Funding & New Opportunities in 2016 by Katherine Molina-Powell

The lead-in to spring is always an exciting time in Head Start: for many programs, self-assessment and robust planning for the coming school year are starting up right now to inform your work through the end of the summer and beyond. As a federally-funded program, Head Start is also subject to changes and initiatives in national policy and funding levels. As our colleagues at NHSA pointed out in December, the 2016 omnibus spending bill included several exciting provisions and changes related to Head Start funding levels, resulting in more than $570M in additional funding for Head Start and Early Head Start overall. These increases are largely comprised of: 

  • Additional funding for EHS-CCP and Early Head Start conversions and associated administration and evaluation at the Federal level ($135 million – now expected to be posted in May)
  • A COLA increase of approximately 1.75% ($141 million)
  • Special supplemental funding for grantees to increase hours of operations ($294 million)

A comparison between 2015 and 2016 fiscal year funding for the Head Start program, broken out into categories, is below, with key categories of increase indicated in bold

These funding increases speak to a clear focus from OHS on two areas that we know have been hot topics over the course of the last year and more – the expansion of Early Head Start and the shift to birth-to-three services, as well as the push toward full-day services in Head Start wherever possible. The robust conversation over the NPRM on the Head Start Performance Standards in 2015 generated a massive amount of conversation and among providers about how to continue to provide high-quality services for a similar number of children if there was no additional funding available with which to make that happen – this year’s funding increase speaks to a promising recognition at the Federal level that there will be a substantial investment of resources needed to make that happen.

As of this moment, programs are pending Federal guidance on when and how most of these initiatives will be rolled out. Now that we know that the EHS-CCP funding will be distributed via a new round of competitive grants, will the FOA follow the 2014 example – targeting Promise Zones and specific zip codes nationwide? When and how will grantees be able to submit proposals for hours-of-service expansion, and what would be the expected timeframe for implementation? These initiatives are going to keep many programs very busy for a considerable amount of time in 2016 – but the exact timeframe and logistics are still in question.

The follow-up question, though, may be more important – how do these funding changes line up with your program’s priorities in 2016? Will they help your program to accomplish one or more of its long-term strategic goals? Do they open up new opportunity that you and your senior leaders will want to explore? Or will these opportunities need to be set aside in favor of more internally-driven initiatives and developments over the course of the year?

We are particularly interested in hearing whether our readers will be pursuing an EHS-CCP grant this spring. Does your program have an EHS-CCP grant already? If so, what do you think about the expansion of that model?

We would love to hear how our readers are thinking about these changes and opportunities coming up – you can keep us in the loop by commenting below or by sending us a direct note at info@shineearly.com. We look forward to hearing from you!

On Innovation: Welcoming 2016 with CEO Henry Wilde

We hear the word “Innovation” tossed around so often that it can mean just about anything in Head Start programs.  Changed suppliers of your consumables?  Innovation.  Updated a process to reflect new regulations? Again, an innovation. Developed an entirely new curriculum? Another innovation. Depending on which business article you read, the term means different things to different people – and we can probably all agree that it is overused.

At Shine Early Learning and Acelero Learning, innovation is not an impulsive reaction to less-than-expected outcomes.  Innovative is not a synonym for creative. An innovation is not a new product or an invention. There is not an exclusive subset of senior leaders who are the only ones who have the keys to the innovation kingdom.

To the contrary, innovation is a process requiring long-term focus and discipline. 

Innovation requires evaluation of the vexing problems we need to solve and the opportunities we see to improve outcomes for children. It requires observing and questioning our own practices, probing and discussing and learning from early childhood education providers in our network and even leaders in other fields, and experimenting in controlled ways. It requires a tolerance for allowing ideas that seemed brilliant at inception to die on the vine when they do not work. And it takes time.

More than that, innovation requires trade-offs. How long must we implement and evaluate an initiative before we make additional changes? How many new practices can our staff successfully absorb and execute on at the same time? What are we ready to pilot? To scale up? Or to roll out across our network? What are the financial implications? How will we internally market the change to increase buy-in prior to the change?

There are no perfect answers to these questions, but I am writing this today, because January marks an important time in our innovation cycle. We are four months into our new school year, and we have the requisite data to recognize or confirm necessary areas of improvement or gaps in our practice. Absent a regulatory change requiring an immediate response, we roll out all new initiatives at the start of the school year, which necessitates a planning process beginning nine months in advance.

We aspire to a two year cycle, which we metaphorically shorthanded with a simple framework: in two years, innovations move from Pencil to Pen to Sharpie. We use Pencils to represent our pilots -- small scale experiments in individual centers or markets to test the efficacy of an idea. The funnel narrows as experiments that show promise are adapted and refined (or written in Pen) and we see whether the pilot can be scaled up to a larger group of centers and locations and implemented with fidelity. Finally, each year, our aspiration is to roll out 1-2 Sharpies, or what we believe to be game-changing, network changing, field changing innovations that drive better outcomes for children.

The Shine Early Learning and Acelero Learning network is vast and growing, and thus can support and, to some extent, necessitates this process-driven approach to innovation. As innovators and educators, we are also lifelong learners –- and we would love to learn from all different types of Head Start programs. How do you plan for innovation in your program? What is your process for developing and rolling out new initiatives and managing change with your staff? Please join our dialogue and share your stories of successes and hiccups. We know that there are no perfect answers –- but there is always the opportunity to learn from one another.

We'd love to hear about your organization’s approach to innovation. Submit your comment below or email us with comments, questions, or thoughts at info@shineearly.com.