INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The National Institute for Early Education Research released a new statewide report that focused on Indiana’s Head Start and Early Head Start programs for children.
More specifically, the report examines equity and inequality gaps, and based on Indiana’s individual statistics in the report, the Institute believes that more equity funding is needed with early start programs.
Head Start is for children ages 3 to 5, while Early Head Start serves pregnant women and families with children under the age of 3.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, progress in expanding Head Start enrollment had stalled for many years, with enrollment stopping at 41% for children in poverty. Like other early childhood programs, the pandemic negatively impacted Head Start and Early Head Start.
“If most eligible children for Head Start programs are not receiving the service, then we are missing a great opportunity to level the playing field right at the start of kindergarten when public schools take responsibility,” said the institute’s senior co-director W. Steven Barnett, who holds a Ph.D. In economy.
In 2020-2021, 257,000 fewer children nationwide participated in Head Start. Enrollment started rising again in 2021-2022 but hasn’t touched pre-pandemic numbers. Federal funding has remained stable throughout the pandemic and even during fluctuations in inflation.
“Racial and ethnic inequalities have been recognized nationally and by most states. A particularly worrying finding is that per-child funding and observed instructional quality were lower in states with higher percentages of Black children enrolled in Early Education, states with higher percentages of Black children in the state, and states with higher percentages of Black teachers in Head Start,” said Dr. Allison Friedman-Krauss of the institute, a research assistant professor with a Ph.D. in developmental psychology.
In Indiana, 4,895 fewer children signed up for Head Start and 472 fewer for Early Head Start due to the pandemic. Early Head-Start enrollment was lowest in Indiana, where 5% of eligible children were enrolled, while 20% of children in poverty were enrolled in Head-Start.
Specific data comparisons on estimated enrollment by race and ethnicity in Indiana include:
- 22% of White children in poverty participated in Head Start, compared to 18% of Black children in poverty, 5% of Asian children in poverty and 35% of children of other races in poverty.
- 21% of Hispanic/Hispanic children in poverty participated in Head Start compared to 20% of non-Hispanic/non-Hispanic children.
- 6% of Black children in poverty participated in the Early Head Start, compared to 5% of White children in poverty, 1% of Asian children in poverty and 10% of children of other races in poverty.
- 5% of Hispanic/Latino children participated in Early Head Start compared to 6% of non-Hispanic/non-Hispanic children in poverty.
“The percentage of children in poverty who enrolled in Early Head Start ranged from 5% in Indiana, Nevada, two states with common preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds that allow them to build more resources,” said Friedman-Krauss.
She also said that in every state, head-start and early head-start educators make far less than public school teachers.
Rhett Cecil, the executive director of the Indiana Head Start Association, said he concurred with the report on teacher underfunding. He says there are large gaps in child-to-teacher ratios as the number of children who could participate in the program is put on a waiting list.
“I wish we could help more kids here in Indiana. We serve as many as we can with the funds allocated,” Cecil said. “I think it would be great if Congress acted quickly.”
The institute said disparities in access to Head Start and Early Head Start could significantly increase their funding to $2.5 billion a year over the next four years, totaling $10 billion in new equity funding.