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Published: Monday, 8/26/2013


New start for Head Start

Burwell Burwell

Regaining local control of a first-rate Head Start program in Toledo and Lucas County will take a collaborative effort that puts aside turf battles and past beefs to do what’s right for this community’s disadvantaged children.

A joint application for the local Head Start grant is the only realistic option, but time is running out. All of the agencies that would be involved in running a local program must commit to it now.

Applicants have until Oct. 21 to submit bids for a federal grant to operate Head Start locally that budget cuts have reduced to $12 million a year. Meanwhile, Community Development Institute, a Denver firm that took over the local Head Start program on July 1, will continue to run the program until the federal government awards a new contract.

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It’s encouraging that the Toledo Community Foundation is bringing local agencies together and pushing the issue. A meeting this week included U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), Head Start’s national director, Toledo Public Schools, the Economic Opportunity Planning Association of Greater Toledo (EOPA), the YMCA/​JCC of Greater Toledo, the University of Toledo, and the United Way of Greater Toledo.

The foundation plans to pay for a consultant to help local agencies craft a joint application. Given the stakes, the complexities of submitting a bid, and the approaching deadline, hiring a consultant with a record of success makes sense.

“This application is no walk in the park,” Keith Burwell, executive director of the Toledo Community Foundation, told The Blade’s editorial page. “Why take the chance of losing it over one mistake? Why not get it right?”

The application should become a blueprint for how local agencies, through cooperation and collaboration, stretch resources to serve more children. Roughly 2,000 children are served by Head Start in Lucas County, but thousands more children qualify for — and need — the services the program provides.

Each local organization has signed a memorandum of understanding that calls for it to disclose its intentions about the application. Violating that agreement with a rogue bid should be regarded by the community as an act of treason.

Because of their missions, expertise, and experience, EOPA and TPS will likely take lead roles. EOPA had run the local program since Head Start started nationally in 1965. As a social service agency, it also has deep roots in the community. TPS has the classroom space and already runs preschool programs for special-needs students.

Along with preschool instruction for children between the ages of 3 and 5, Head Start provides health care, nutritious food, and social services. Other community agencies can help Head Start meet those needs more effectively.

Head Start and other early childhood programs are among the smartest investments government can make. They save enormous sums down the road in the costs of remedial education, social services, and criminal justice.

Yet it took losing the local Head Start contract to an out-of-state vendor finally to bring local agencies to the same table. This spring, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services rejected rival bids from EOPA and TPS, concluding that neither met its standards.

It should embarrass this community that the Lucas County Head Start grant was among only 5 percent of contracts nationwide that did not attract a qualified bidder. Lucas County has the human capital and physical assets to run one of the nation’s best Head Start programs — if it can get its act together.

With the clock ticking, the time to come together is now.

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