Only a Small Fraction of Arizona Children from Low-Income Families Are Enrolled in Head Start Program

The vast majority of Arizona's eligible children are not enrolled in the federally funded Head Start program, which offers early education primarily to children from low-income families.

Only about 7 percent of children in Arizona under the age of 5 who come from low-income families were enrolled in Head Start during the 2014-2015 school year, according to a new report from the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. That's below the national average of 10 percent.

This means thousands of children in Arizona aren't benefiting from the five-decade-old program that is meant to provide high-quality preschool programming to children younger than age 5 whose families earn up to 130 percent of the federal poverty level.

These and other findings are highlighted in the national report that examines Head Start data on a state-by-state basis. The report exposed widespread differences across states in a number of areas, including funding for Head Start and enrollment.

"Our report for the first time reveals the extent of disparities in Head Start funding and coverage state by state," Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, said in a statement.

"We urge local, state, and federal policymakers to work with Head Start providers and the broader early childhood education community, including researchers, to address issues raised in this report," Barnett added.

The report also found that in Arizona, the quality of instruction at the agencies that provide Head Start services fell below a research-based threshold for effective learning.

What's more, Head Start teachers in Arizona earned substantially less than teachers in the state's public schools. According to the report, Head Start teachers with a bachelor's degree earned $31,199 during the 2014-2015 school year, compared to $45,406 for public-school teachers.

Teachers from Early Head Start, which serves children ages six weeks to three years old, also earned substantially less in Arizona than the state's public-school teachers. They earned $33,295 during the 2014-2015 school year.

There was some good news in the report for Arizona.

For example, it found that 90 percent of Arizona children who enrolled attended Head Start for at least 1,020 hours per year, surpassing the national average of 42 percent.

Also, the amount of federal funding that Arizona received per child in Head Start and Early Head Start exceeded the national average when adjusted for the cost of living.

The report's authors concluded that their findings highlight the need for renewed attention to meeting the needs of young children in low-income families across the nation, while also recognizing that Head Start is not the only program that serves this population.

"As Head Start is only one in a larger set of public programs supporting young children that varies greatly from one state to the next, we call for an independent bipartisan study commission to develop an action plan supporting quality education for all young children and their families, particularly the most vulnerable, in every state and territory," Barnett stated.

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