Why ECE Advocates Are Opposing New Head Start Standards

Why ECE Advocates Are Opposing New Head Start Standards

Allison Boyle, Research and Policy Specialist

The Southern Education Foundation, along with 10 other early care and education (ECE) organizations, recently submitted public comments opposing the new Head Start pay parity regulations proposed by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF).

Since 1965, the national Head Start program has provided comprehensive early childhood services to young children living in poverty. Its effectiveness is backed by decades of research showing positive outcomes across the developmental continuum and into adulthood.

Like most other early learning educators, the Head Start workforce is severely underpaid. Despite the fact that nearly three-quarters of Head Start educators have a Bachelor’s degree, their average salary remains more than $20,000 lower than that of the average kindergarten teacher.

In an attempt to create competitive wages for Head Start educators, ACF proposed new regulations requiring Head Start programs to pay their teachers at a level comparable to that of local K-3 educators by 2031. While SEF and its allies support increasing pay for ECE teachers, this proposed regulation does not come with additional funding. This means that programs will have to serve less children in order to comply.

At its current funding level, Head Start only serves about a quarter of the eligible population. ACF estimates that this new regulation would further decrease the number of children served by over 100,000, and we believe this may be an undercount. Many ECE advocates are concerned that these impacts would be felt disproportionately by small and rural programs, who may have to shut down completely. It is also unclear how the changes would impact historically underserved communities. We believe further analysis should be done to determine which populations would be negatively impacted by this requirement.

Requiring Head Start programs to implement the pay parity proposed requirements without additional funding places an undue burden on individual grantees and decreases low-income families’ access to high-quality early learning opportunities. SEF and its allies are urging ACF to pause these new regulations until Congress provides significantly more funding for Head Start so that programs no longer have to choose between serving more children or paying their educators a living wage.