Mission and History

In 1987 Minnesota Head Start programs established the Minnesota Head Start Association (MHSA) with the mission to empower themselves as a united voice in speaking and acting on issues affecting low-income children and families. The Association’s second mission is to improve Head Start programs and policies by conducting itself as an informed, respectful, and representative organization.

Supporting local programs

Minnesota’s Head Start programs rely on the Association to gather information about gaps and trends in local service delivery, focusing on families with young children. Identifying common concerns for local programs and families affords the Association opportunities to help grantees develop statewide strategies to improve Head Start programs and policies. Grantees also rely on the Association to communicate trends, issues, information on local program response and outcomes, and challenges to the broader community including regional, state and national audiences. In this way, the Association is also an advocate for low-income children and families and the Head Start programs that serve them.

The Minnesota Head Start Association aggressively pursues donations, grants and financial support for its activities. Through financial support from the State Head Start Collaboration Office, the Association’s Special Focus Minnesota projects are currently to:

  • Enhance the Association’s annual cycle of leadership training opportunities for Head Start parents, including its Annual Parent Training Conference
  • Data analysis of child progress toward School Readiness Goals, as well as an Elementary Extension project to analyze children’s progress once they have gone on to elementary school, through 3rd grade
  • Create a Statewide Action Plan to strengthen Head Start’s approach to children’s mental health.

A united voice

MHSA is also funded through membership dues from grantee agencies. The Association’s organizational chart illustrates the relationship between member agencies and the Association’s membership structure and governance. A Board of Directors governs the Association and its twelve members represent each affiliate member group (directors, staff, parents and friends). The Association employs a full-time executive director and contracts with member agencies for technical and support functions.

Most activities of MHSA are carried out by a many volunteers from the various affiliates who serve on standing committees and ad hoc advisory boards assembled at the discretion of the Board. The Minnesota Valley Action Council, Inc. is under contract to provide fiscal management services for the Association.

MHSA works in close partnership with the Minnesota Community Action Association, advocating jointly on behalf of families with young children in Minnesota. The Association’s Executive Director represents the Head Start community on statewide early childhood consortiums and health planning initiatives

  • Prenatal to 3 Coalition
  • Target Home Visiting Coalition
  • MN Child Care Coalition
  • Voices and Choices for Children
  • Think Small
  • Close the Gap by 5

The Association works closely with the State Head Start Collaboration Director in the Minnesota Department of Education and the various state agencies whose responsibilities it is to address the challenges of improving services for low-income families.

the history of Head Start

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 the following from a coordinated community based service system:

  • comprehensive services-education,
  • parent engagement,
  • health,
  • nutrition,
  • family services

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 donated 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 programs. 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, click here for the most current poverty guidelines.

Persons in Family / HouseholdAnnual Income / Poverty Guideline
1$12,760
2$17,240
3$21,720
4$26,200
5$30,680
6$35,160
7$39,640
8$44,120
Federal Poverty Guidelines for 2020 for the 48 contiguous states and District of Columbia

Throughout the state, the need of families exceeds funded capacity.  Head Start programs develop a set of criteria to help them determine who, of those that apply, will receive services.  This criteria may include such criterion as a diagnosed disability, homelessness or sheltered living, proximity to entering kindergarten having received no services, and more. Each program is required to serve at least 10% of its funded enrollment that are children 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:

  • Work toward achieving School Readiness Goals in several areas:
    • Social-Emotional Development.  Increasing children’s abilities and skills in regulating their emotions, building relationships, participating in a group, and conflict resolution
    • Physical Development and Health.   Development of abilities and skills in gross and fine motor, personal care and healthy behaviors
    • Language and Literacy.  Development of abilities and skills in speaking to express their thoughts and needs, listening and understanding, phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge, reading, book enjoyment and writing.
    • Cognition and Approaches to Learning.  Development of abilities and skills in how children approach learning, remembering concepts and experiences, using classification skills and symbols.
    • Mathematics.  Development of skills and abilities in number concepts, shapes and spatial awareness, measurement and patterns.
    • Science and Technology.  Development of abilities and skills in scientific inquiry, knowledge of living things / earth’s environment, and using tools to perform tasks.
    • English Language Learning.  Head Start promotes the growth of a child’s primary language, as well as acquisition of English language skills.
  • Health services to ensure health is not a barrier to school readiness, including immunizations, oral health, mental health, and physical health including developmental screenings.
  • Family 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.

Parent Engagement

Head Start is a “two-generational” approach.  We promote child AND family development, with parent engagement as our cornerstone.  Head Start maintains a philosophy that the parent/guardian is the primary educator of their child and that parents/guardians feel supported to reach their full potential. 

Community Partnerships

Head Start programs build and maintain strong community partners throughout the State of Minnesota to realize positive outcomes for children and families. MN Head Start programs partner with school-based programs; health, dental, nutrition, and mental health providers; family / social services; 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. These Standards are written as a set of outcomes that each program must achieve, however, each program has to freedom to determine how they will reach these outcomes based on their community resources and needs.

Programs undergo a rigorous in-depth monitoring of their programs.  If any concerns are identified, programs must go through a process to identify how they will make corrections for program improvement.   

Early Head Start

Pregnant women, 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.