Sneak Preview: ACF To Reassess Head Start Program Review Process

October 7, 2016 | By Jerry Ashworth | Post a Comment

xsass_bookshot(The following was excerpted from a recent article in the Single Audit Information Service.) The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Administration for Children and Families (ACF) plans to reassess its methods for evaluating Head Start awardee performance to ensure that recipients that receive automatic, noncompetitive renewal of their programs actually merit such renewal, in response to a recent HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit.

The Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007 (Pub. L. 110-134) required ACF to award five-year Head Start grants to eligible awardees, rather than awarding indefinite-term grants as the agency had done previously. The law also required Head Start recipients that ACF determines are not providing a high-quality and comprehensive program to participate in open competition for funding renewal. To better determine awardee level of performance, ACF in 2012 implemented the Designation Renewal System (DRS), which uses seven “trigger conditions” to assess a subset of awardees each year and determine which recipients will be required to recompete for their Head Start award. Some stakeholders questioned whether Head Start recipients that ACF designated under the DRS for automatic renewal were actually performing better than those required to recompete for their awards.

If a Head Start awardee meets one or more of the following seven “trigger conditions” in the DRS that are indicative of quality concerns, it must recompete for grant renewal. These conditions are when an awardee: (1) has one or more deficiency findings over the prior review period; (2) has a low score on the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), which is used to assess the quality of teacher-student interactions; (3) is determined to be at risk of failing to continue as a “going concern”; (4) has its license to operate a Head Start or Early Head Start program revoked by a state or local licensing agency; (5) fails to establish program goals for school readiness or take steps to achieve those goals; (6) is suspended from the Head Start program by ACF; and/or (7) is debarred by any federal or state department or disqualified by the Child and Adult Care Food Program.

For its audit, the OIG reviewed 361 Head Start awardees that were reviewed under a DRS recompetition assessment. The OIG found that 115 (32 percent) of these awardees met at least one DRS trigger condition and were therefore required to recompete for their grants. The most common trigger conditions were deficiency findings and low CLASS scores. Of these 115 Head Start recipients, 85 awardees (74 percent) were ultimately renewed for an additional five-year grant term. When these grants were recompeted, there were typically few applicants, as the average posting drew two applicants. Of the 85 awardees that were renewed after their grants were recompeted, 54 recipients (64 percent) were the sole applicants for their respective grants.

(The full version of this story has now been made available to all for a limited time on Thompson’s Grants Compliance Expert site.)


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