NHSDA Executive Director Yasmina Vinci write on the Designation Renewal System at Huffington Post:

In 2007, Congress attempted to strengthen the accountability of Head Start programs by requiring open competition for Head Start grants in communities where local programs were not offering high-quality services.

Since 2011, the Office of Head Start has been implementing the Designation Renewal System (DRS) to put that goal into action, but the design of this system has led to a number of unproductive and unintended consequences.

This fall, as the third cycle of DRS closed, the National Head Start Association (NHSA) released Analysis of the Designation Renewal System: Cohorts One to Three, summarizing the outcomes for programs and communities thus far and highlighting opportunities to address those unintended consequences and make the DRS more effective. As the report concluded:

● The DRS still falls short of fully meeting the Congressional intent of targeting competition at poor quality grantees.
● Basic reforms are needed to make the DRS consistent, reasonable, and predictable.
● Conceptual reforms are needed to support programs in working toward high quality, not compliance.

Right now, the DRS requires programs to enter competition if they hit one or more of seven triggers. Overall, 74% of programs going into competition are currently getting their grants back at the end of a grueling 18-month process. Depending on what trigger caused them to compete, programs might be more or less likely than that to get their grant back. This confirms what the Head Start field knows to be true: the triggers for competition were designed in ways that catch low-quality programs but also catch other good programs.

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