Officials’ mistake cancels Head Start in Detroit schools; ‘sin and a shame’ for district

At a time when parents, educators and state officials are pushing to make sure every Michigan child has access to quality preschool, almost 1,000 low-income Detroit 4-year-olds may not get free, federally-funded classrooms because Detroit Public School officials botched the paperwork.

DPS failed to complete the application process for the Head Start preschool program on time. The result: Head Start classrooms are being shuttered across the city, with the district promising to offer 4-year-olds other programs funded by Michigan taxpayers instead.

During the 2013-14 school year, DPS had more than 900 Head Start students in about 56 classrooms, public records show.

Sen. Bert Johnson, D-Highland Park, called DPS’ mistake reprehensible and doubted lawmakers would favor funding more state preschool in Detroit, considering DPS screwed up a chance at federal money.

“I think it renders us functionally obsolete as a school district as it relates to the most vulnerable students,” Johnson added.

Four-year-olds from low-income Detroit families still will be able to enroll in Head Start classes offered by community agencies in the city, according to the regional office of the Administration for Children and Families, which oversees Head Start. It was not immediately clear whether there will be enough classes for the Detroit children who would have gone to DPS, where preschool is taught by certified teachers.

“The application from Detroit Public Schools was not among the eligible applications received on time,” said Kenneth Wolfe, spokesman for the ACF. “Therefore, it was not evaluated by the panel of experts.”

Head Start will be offered by four local Detroit agencies that won $48 million in federal grants, Wolfe said.

The Head Start grant announcements were made in February, but word spread last week when some DPS schools were told to tag and send back any preschool furniture or equipment that was purchased with Head Start funds.

District claims options expanding

Keith Johnson, the president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers union, called the error by DPS “a sin and a shame.”

“It’s really unfortunate in a district that can’t afford to lose a dime,” Johnson said. “How do you not get your I’s dotted and T’s crossed, knowing early childhood is a focal point in our district?”

Great Start and Head Start program details at a glance.

Asked why DPS failed to meet the Head Start deadline, the district released a statement on Monday saying DPS is actually expanding preschool. DPS did not answer questions regarding the Head Start application snafu, but described it as a program limited to poor students. About 82 percent of DPS students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch.

“DPS will no longer be including Head Start, which qualifies children based solely on their meeting poverty level requirements, in its early childhood education program offerings,” the district said in a written statement.

Last year, DPS had 3,363 children in early childhood programs, about 900 of them in Head Start. Despite losing the Head Start funds, the district plans to add 540 seats in 34 new classrooms using funds from the state’s Great Start Readiness Program and federal Title I funds.

DPS officials did not explain how losing more than 900 Head Start seats and adding 540 Great Start and Title 1 seats amounted to an increase in early childhood offerings.

“Research clearly shows that providing children with early childhood education programs is essential to their personal growth and future academic success,” Jack Martin, the state-appointed DPS emergency manager, said in the news release. “DPS remains committed to providing these critical programs to as many Detroit children as possible.”

State officials did not return calls seeking confirmation that DPS’ expanded preschool will be funded by additional state Great Start funds. But extra funding needed to cover Detroit preschool children, who would have been in the federally funded Head Start program if not for the paperwork snafu, will mean less money for students elsewhere in the state.

LaMar Lemmons, the school board president and vocal critic of the emergency management process, called the DPS mistake further proof that the state is doing a poor job managing its largest school system.

“I think this is a deliberate and systematic dismantling of the Detroit Public Schools system,” Lemmons said. “That, or gross incompetence that is harming our school district and our city.”

Martin reports to the Michigan Department of Treasury. Terry Stanton, spokesman for treasury, was unfamiliar with the DPS Head Start application process, but said he would look into the matter.

A long history with Head Start

Head Start has served over 30 million children across the country since 1965, growing from an eight-week demonstration project to full-day classes. Services include home visits, parenting workshops, English language classes as well as social services and medical referrals.

Those outside-the-classroom services will not be available to children who would have been in Head Start but now will be in Great Start.

Last year, Head Start made a change in Detroit. The government chose five communities nationwide, including Detroit, to participate in a pilot program called Birth to Five. Birth to Five combines programs for expectant families with Early Start services for babies and Head Start preschool services.

The Head Start providers in the selected five cities had to compete for funding due to deficiencies found during prior monitoring reviews. Each applicant submitted a single application to provide a continuum of care in a Birth to Five Head Start program.

In February, four Detroit agencies were awarded a total of $48 million for the Birth to Five pilot that will start in the fall of 2014: Matrix Human Services, Metropolitan Children & Youth, New St. Paul Tabernacle, and Starfish Family Services.

Debra Spring, director for Vistas Nuevas Head Start programs in southwest Detroit that are operated by Matrix Human Services, said she believes the city will have enough seats – a mix of Head Start and Great Start - to accommodate all preschool children in the fall.

“Our hope is that people will look at a program that best fits their needs,” she said.

This fall will likely be the first time ever that DPS will not participate in Head Start, Johnson said.

Push to expand preschool

The DPS bungle comes as the state pushes an effort to offer more preschool.

Gov. Rick Snyder and a host of legislators supported a large increase in preschool funding last year – $65 million, the highest increase among any state in the nation. The money was meant to open classrooms for some of the 30,000 Michigan 4-year-olds who qualified for Great Start but were not enrolled.

The federally funded Head Start program can lead to extra costs for a district because it offers more services to the neediest children, including children who meet risk factors of poverty as well as those with special needs. Head Start provides funds for preschool for students whose families are at or below the poverty line. Great Start funds students whose families earn up to 2.5 times the poverty rate.

Any child who would qualify for Head Start, would also be eligible for either the Great Start Readiness and/or Title I Pre-K programs that DPS will offer, according to DPS.

Unlike some other Head Start providers in the city, DPS’ teachers are paid union wages and typically certified. It is unclear whether DPS will retain all of its Head Start teachers next school year. DPS “believes” those teachers “will likely be absorbed into the planned expansion of the Great Start Readiness and Title I-funded classrooms.”

Johnson, the president of the teachers union, said DPS exhausted its appeals options in the Head Start application process, but should not have found itself in such an “inexcusable” position.

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Tue, 06/10/2014 - 8:46am
This is what happens when a school system is taken over by folk that don't know anything about education and how to run a system. Make sure the readers know that the Governor is in charge and that we have an Emergency Manager that has screwed up our children's chance to get a boost before they enter kindergarten. When will they ever learn that this system is destroying our children and stop the madness. Blame them and not the board.
Kim Hunter
Tue, 06/10/2014 - 9:17am
Helen said it all.
Mike R
Tue, 06/10/2014 - 9:49am
This is clear evidence that the Emergency Manager law is not a one-size-fits-all solution to governmental units and institutions that need financial and/or managerial fixes. While it may (arguably) be working in some municipalities, it appears to be a dismal failure for DPS. Perhaps the worst part is the complete inability of DPS or the Emergency Manager to own up to the mistake, instead making a pathetic attempt at spin-doctoring. If Governor Snyder does not own this debacle now, he certainly will if he does not fire Jack Martin and hire an actual educator, not just a bean counter.
Tue, 06/10/2014 - 11:02am
The State of Michigan took over the Detroit Public Schools in 1999 and ran then until about 2005. Did state management greatly improve the city's public schools at that time? There have been several Emergency Managers of DPS in the current era of state management. Have any of these Emergency Managers done an excellent job?
Dedra Dee
Tue, 06/17/2014 - 11:01am
No, it's gotten worse with every manager, but that was the idea, to destroy Detroit public schools, fill them with new, inexperienced, poorly paid teachers while all the while shoveling our tax dollars to contractors who take our money out of the city and do a poor job running schools.
Tue, 06/10/2014 - 2:43pm
The Free Press article/explanation dated June 10, fails to cover up the major error on Detroit Public Schools’ part to submit the 2014-2015 Head Start Grant. $48 million was awarded non-DPS Detroit delegates who cared to submit their application in a timely manner. DPS had several months to comply. And to say that the state funded Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) and Title I, that serves 4 year olds, will cover the slots is not possible. The 2014-2015 Head Start grant would have served a wider population than 4-year olds. Originally announced to DPS LAST YEAR, that Grant application DPS FAILED TO SEND IN ON-TIME, more than tripled the current DPS Head Start funding, and it aimed to give the Detroit community greater flexibility in designing Head Start and Early Head Start programs to better serve the needs of young children from birth until grade school age …Vastly different in its offering than GSRP and Title I. To make it clear--and I can’t say it enough… Head Start's offering for next year was a ZERO-TO-FIVE-YEAR-OLD PROGRAM that would have served the low-income expectant mother, father, family, infant, and ultimately the preschooler; enhancing cognitive, social and emotional development --responding to President Obama's Early Education Plan which included infants and toddlers --combining Early Head Start, Head Start and Child Care Partnerships to provide comprehensive, full-day, full year, high-quality programming – a wonderful opportunity for DPS to help uplift Detroit. Poverty is real in the city, and Head Start's mission is to break that cycle by educating the entire family, unlike GSRP or Title I. Head Start has been proven to lead low-income families to a better life, linking them to major resources, i.e. health care, continuing education, fatherhood initiatives, etc., while delivering excellent educational services to its enrollees. Detroit’s only public school system should be a part of this effort-- it's a shame that this opportunity failed because of negligence on DPS' part. What an insult to the community! DPS was the largest Head Start delegate for over 50 years. For decades preschool and Head Start existed together in the public school system, identifying and realizing the diverse needs of the Detroit community. One program could never replace the other. I'm embarrassed by this sad excuse and this extreme carelessness. Head Start teachers and assistants, nor the parent policy groups, were never formally addressed by DPS about Head Start’s fate. Not to mention an entire non-instructional central office of professionals that were asked to act as grant writers for the pilot over a year ago – are now shuffling to find jobs before June 30th. To add insult to injury, the individuals responsible for this mess up, a Head Start director and assistant superintendent, will remain employed! The director is due to even travel on Head Start funds this month! No wonder DPS is being challenged by private educational charters, outsourcing, deficits and private schools. Where is the “emergency management”? What an atrocity!
Tue, 06/10/2014 - 10:36pm
I'm one of those central office members... THANK YOU FOR TELLING THE WHOLE TRUTH!
Rita Casey
Tue, 06/10/2014 - 3:37pm
A shame indeed! This deserves deeper investigation. Why isn't the person who has responsibility for managing grant programs in DPS being held responsible for this? Are the youngest, most vulnerable children in Detroit Public Schools given any real value in the eyes of the those who pick overseers for school districts? When will there be any acknowledgment that business experience and business education does not make an individual fit to run a school district?
Dedra Dee
Tue, 06/17/2014 - 11:05am
Because that is the way they wanted it. The State is not in this to make Detroit Public schools work. They are only in it to get the $7100 per student and send it to their cronies.
preK teacher
Tue, 06/10/2014 - 7:03pm
WOW!!! I cannot believe it has taken this long to uncover what a mess the Head Start program in Detroit really is. There are many parties that have played into the loss of this grant money including the CDI management team. Who would leave the responsibility of such a HUGE amount of money in the hands of ONE person to download before a FEDERAL deadline??????? It is a shame that such a wonderful program which prides itself on BREAKING THE CYCLE OF POVERTY will no longer service some of the neediest young learners in the state of Michigan.
Wed, 06/11/2014 - 8:36am
Will the Emergency Manager be fired? What about Emergency Manager accountability?
Steve K
Wed, 06/11/2014 - 10:22am
Listen everyone, the emergency manager is not there to save the district. He's there to destroy the district from the inside and sell it off to the highest bidders. The mismanagement of multiple EMs tells you everything you need to know. This isn't just an innocent mistake, it's intentional. The city is already experiencing more charters than traditional public schools. And Lansing wants that charter percentage to increase.
Fri, 06/13/2014 - 4:58pm once again it's the children of Detroit who are going to miss out. Heartbreaking.
Dedra Dee
Tue, 06/17/2014 - 10:56am
This was no mistake. The Governor and the Emergency Manager only want to close down Detroit schools. They are not trying to make them better or make them solvent. They are just there to turn out the lights.