Head Start will continue, with or without SMILE

(Photo: Claire Taylor/Daily Advertiser)

Children who attend SMILE’s Head Start and Early Head Start programs can continue to attend those programs even though SMILE may lose its federal funding.

“The children and their families will not be left without services,” Pat Fisher, public affairs specialist with the Administration for Children and Families, told The Daily Advertiser Friday in an email response to questions.

SMILE was notified this week that its federal funding for Head Start is being terminated because it failed to correct deficiencies that include mistreatment of children by staff.

SMILE, in an email, said it plans to appeal the decision. If it loses, funding will be immediately terminated and it won’t be able to apply for five years.

If SMILE does lose it funding, others will step in and operate the Head Start and Early Head Start programs.

“Whoever’s enrolled in our Head Start program, we will still have a Head Start program,” SMILE board member John Billiot said. It just may be managed by another agency, he said.

If SMILE cannot operate the programs, Fisher said, the agency will send a team from the Community Development Institute Head Start to oversee the programs. CDI Head Start is under contract with the Office of Head Start, he said.

CDI will run the Head Start and Early Head Start programs, Fisher said, until the Administration for Children and Families, through a competitive grant process, names a new agency to take over.

Eligible public and private non-profit groups, including school systems, can apply to operate Head Start and Early Head Start programs. The Administration for Children and Families will put out a notice seeking applications to take over the SMILE programs.

Applications will be evaluated by a panel composed of independent early childhood education professionals “to determine their ability to deliver on Head Start’s goal of providing high-quality early childhood services,” Fisher said.

He gave no indication as to how long that process will take.

Head Start employees may be able to apply for their jobs in the interim. If CDI temporarily takes over, Fisher said, “they will host a job fair for all qualified staff who currently work for the SMILE Head Start and Early Head Start program.”

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