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MNHS Association Programs

History and General Information

Head Start is a program of the Federal government, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965. The purpose of Head Start is to help low-income families break the cycle of poverty by promoting economic self-sufficiency and to prepare low-income children to enter kindergarten confidently, with the social, physical, emotional, and cognitive skills and competencies necessary for success in school. The 1994 reauthorization of the Head Start Act established Early Head Start to serve pregnant women and families with children zero to three years of age.

Head Start and Early Head Start programs provide comprehensive services-education, parent involvement, health, nutrition, and social services-all of which are coordinated with community-based service systems. Federal Head Start grants are made directly to local public or private nonprofit agencies through the regional offices of the federal Administration of Children, Youth, and Families. The federal-to-local flow of dollars is key to ensuring children and families receive programming tailored to their unique community trends and needs. Federal law requires the community to contribute at least 20 percent of the cost of a Head Start program. Many programs use in-kind contributions to meet the match requirements including the value of volunteer hours and costs of donating space, materials, and services.

Since 1988, Minnesota has appropriated state general funds for Minnesota Head Start programs. Minnesota has 34 Head Start and/or Early Head Start grantees. Head Start was housed in the Minnesota Department of Economic Opportunity until 2002 when under Governor Pawlenty it was moved to the Department of Education: a move widely opposed by the Head Start and early childhood development community who fought and continue to fight to ensure Head Start continues to be a comprehensive program that addresses the whole child and his or her family.

At least 90 percent of families eligible for Head Start or Early Head Start must have incomes that are at or below the federal poverty guidelines ($12,830 for a two-person family and $16, 090 for a three person family for fiscal year 2005). Since the need exceeds funded capacity throughout the state, Head Start grantees develop selection criteria that may include such criterion as a diagnosed disability, homelessness or sheltered living, proximity to entering kindergarten having received no services, and more. The percent of all children enrolled in a grantees program must be a child with a diagnosed disability.


Comprehensive Services

A cornerstone of Head Start is its comprehensive services approach to school readiness for low-income children. Head Start provides:

  • Language and literacy early childhood education to prepare children for kindergarten.


  • Health services to ensure health is not a barrier to school readiness, including immunizations, oral health, mental health, and physical health including developmental screenings.


  • Social services to help parents reach self sufficiency so poverty presents less of a barrier to a child's ability to reach his or her full potential.


  • Social/Emotional early childhood education to ensure children have the social/emotional skills needed to develop cognitively.

Parent Involvement

Often people outside of Head Start do not realize that Head Start programs are child and family development programs, with parent involvement a cornerstone. MN Head Start supports the philosophy that both parents-mother and father-are the primary educators in their child's life and that both parents find support to reach their full potential for themselves and their children.

Community Partnerships

Head Start programs have strong community partners throughout the State of Minnesota to realize positive outcomes for poor children and families. MN Head Start grantees partner with school-based programs; health, dental, nutrition, and mental health providers; family social services and housing services; educational institutions and job trainers; neighborhood and cultural organizations; community experts in program evaluation and planning; and other child care services to provide full-day and/or full-year programming.

Performance Standards

In 1975 the federal government released the Head Start Program Performance Standards, and program monitoring began in earnest. The Performance Standards are detailed regulations for all areas of Head Start program operations. Grantees undergo a rigorous in-depth monitoring of their programs ever three years by the federal government. Grantees have 90 days to correct any program deficiencies and are de-funded if they do not meet regulations within that time. While all Head Start grantees must meet performance standards, each is free to design their programs to meet their unique community needs.

Early Head Start

Infants and toddlers in Minnesota Head Start programs receive care and stimulation appropriate to their age and developmental level, with the overall goal being the cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development of each child.

Two-thirds of Early Head Start programs in Minnesota use the nationally recognized Creative Curriculum® to develop young children's emerging literacy. The Curriculum's Individual Goals and Objective Checklist enables Early Head Start teachers to continuously assess children in their primary stages of development.

Three checklists correspond to the three primary stages of a young child's development before the age of three: young infant, mobile infant, and toddler. Within each checklist, the goals for the child remain the same. Goals include:

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