A state-by-state study of Head Start programs shows Arkansas keeping up with national averages in per-child funding levels and hours of classroom time, but the state lags in pay and education levels for teachers. The National Institute for Early Education Research released the findings Wednesday.
Steve Barnett, the institute’s director and a professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, says in order to improve the reach and effectiveness of early childhood education, Arkansas should find more ways to partner with the federal Head Start program.
“Arkansas does have the ABC, early childhood program. The state is putting money into early childhood programs in the state. This is something Head Start can participate in and [collaborate to] provide additional resources for Head Start to basically ‘top up;’ to raise teacher salaries, to provide more professional development,” Barnett says.
Head Start was created by Congress just over 50 years ago to provide day care and educational opportunities for children who come from low-income families. The institute compared Head Start information from all 50 states for 2014-15, as well as historical data from 2007 to 2015. ). The study shows wide disparities in funding, classroom hours, enrollment and teacher compensation between states across the country and within the same regions.
“Arkansas is mostly in the middle. So in some ways that’s a good thing,” he says. “Not too far away from the averages, Arkansas does relatively well in seeing three and four year olds get at least 1,020 hours of Head start services a year. Arkansas is not greatly disadvantaged in percentage of eligible population that can be enrolled.”
In the state, per-pupil funding for Early Head Start, which serves infants and toddlers, exceeded the national average. But per-pupil funding was below the average for older children. Sixty-One percent of Head Start teachers in the state held a Bachelor’s degree or higher, which is less than the national average of 73 percent. Pay for Arkansas Head Start teachers was also below the national average.
In 2014 and 2015, about nine percent of Arkansas’s low-income children enrolled in Head Start programs, slightly below the national average of 10 percent.