Nearly 50 Years of Providing Comprehensive Services
to Children and Families in Tennessee and America
Head Start: It’s More Than You Thought!
By Paul Frank, Tennessee Head Start Association
And Janet Coscarelli, Director, Tennessee Head Start State Collaboration Office
Head Start, America’s largest federally-funded early childhood program, has been called “one of the most
significant and successful initiatives launched during President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty.”1 Head Start provided
the opportunity for a preschool program to be started for all eligible 4-year old children.
The program began in 1965 as a two-monthlong summer demonstration program serving more than half a million preschool children. A mandate to serve children with disabilities was initiated in 1972, and in subsequent years the doors have been opened
wide to children in foster care children as well as children from homeless families. Since it began, the program has served almost 30 million children in all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Pacific Insular Areas.
The major criterion for eligibility, however, continues to be family income. That’s because lowincome is the major factor that puts a family and its children at risk of failure, prenatally up through kindergarten and continuing through life. Head Start
programs actively seek out the neediest of the needy to ensure that at least 90% of the enrollees fall at or below the
federal poverty level. This year, that’s $23,550 for a family of four. In Tennessee, that means that 27 out of every 100
children- approximately 136,000 children – – are eligible for Head Start services. However, since Head Start in Tennessee
is only funded to serve a little more than 16,000 children, 120,000 children who might otherwise qualify for Head Start
services cannot get Head Start. They seek services in other environments, including child care centers or child care home
setting, school settings, or pre-school programs.
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