I’ve always believed healthy competition is a good thing. I love sports and do not prescribe to the current “everyone gets a trophy” philosophy that permeates youth sports these days. Competition in business is a good thing also. I’m an avid user of the “Walmart Savings Catcher” app, and I love the money I save because their competitors sometimes offer lower prices.
However, I draw the line at competing for individuals of our youngest, most vulnerable members of society. Now, before you read this and think I’m anti school choice, let me be clear in stating that isn’t the case. I believe parents should always have a choice about where and how their children are educated.
What I’m talking about here is the competition between state and federally funded programs for the same group of children their programs are both designed to serve. If there is such a need for these programs, and if both state and federal programs claim they do not have enough funding to serve the children in their communities, then why are these programs many times competing for the same children?
How do I know such a competition exists? For starters, I spent 22 years working for a program where children were switched back and forth from the state program to the federal program when it served the advantage of the program. I also watched as countless quality teachers left the Head Start program for the higher salaries the state funded program could offer.
I can assure you this isn’t an issue which is isolated to one program. I recently attended the Head Start Leadership Institute and heard participant after participant mention this competition. One participant even talked about how their four- year-olds were being “poached by the district”. Others stated the struggles of competing with salaries for teachers and still others discussed the increase in private childcare centers and subsidies which cause them to “lose” children to these programs.
Nationwide census data shows there are more than enough children to go around, so why are these programs struggling to meet their numbers? I would proffer it is because in this instance competition needs to be laid aside and programs need to come together to use their funds to provide quality, early childhood education for all children who need it.
One of the barriers to this is the fact that funding is tied to enrollment numbers and programs many times can’t see past the need to “meet their numbers”. There’s a better way to use both federal and state dollars together to serve more children and take away the competition which currently exists for these dollars.
It’s not necessarily a new idea but one that historically has caused the powers that be with the Head Start program to go on the offense about how children will lose out on the comprehensive services the Head Start program has touted as their gospel for the past fifty years. Wake up, Head Start. The world of 2017 is very different from that of 1965, and it’s time to lay your kingdoms aside and do what’s truly best for children and families.
If these dollars were allocated to the states, which are more likely to know the needs which exist locally, this unhealthy competition could be transformed into a healthy competition which allows parents to choose the early childhood setting most appropriate for their children.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this series for more specifics on how this transformation would benefit both programs and most importantly the children they are designed to serve.