Fresh start for Head Start Carroll County: Search for new provider to maintain early education program for needy.

February 07, 1997

UNLIKE ITS NEIGHBORS, the Carroll County school system early on accepted responsibility for running the local Head Start program, designed to provide pre-school education for children of low-income families. Now the county school board plans to drop that function -- while committing to provide classroom space for a new organization to run the program this fall.

Applicants to take over the $400,000 federal grant, covering 88 children in five Carroll schools, need to act promptly to ensure a smooth transition and pass through the federal approval process. But this is no emergency, as the schools would continue to act as interim provider if approval was delayed.

The transfer to another agency, whether the YMCA or Human Services Programs, is appropriate for a 30-year-old national program that is increasingly directed toward family services, such as computer training for parents. Public education has also changed: kindergarten is now mandatory for 5-year-olds in Maryland. And public television has expanded home education experiences for all pre-schoolers.

Head Start has been a successful early-intervention program, a justifiable survivor of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society agenda.

The county school system has coped well as provider since 1981. But federal paperwork burdens, transportation and other non-educational responsibilities detracted from the system's main mission. Demands on school staff diverted resources from other pre-school programs, including those for disabled children that are mandated by law.

In nearby counties, the school system does not run Head Start programs, even though classes may be held in schools. Carroll has guaranteed school space, so that is not a problem. Even if the program classes changed sites, it would not diminish the effort.

We urge Carroll's Head Start Policy Board to encourage applicants to the federal program as successor providers, rather than grousing about the school board's short notice to pull out. Human Services Programs says that it already explored the idea last year. The YMCA of Central Maryland is the state's largest operator of these programs. They would both seem to have a good head start in taking over this worthwhile program.

Pub Date: 2/07/97

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