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Head Start Is Free, Effective, And Struggling To Fill All Of Its Seats

At a time when cities and states across the country are trying to expand publicly funded preschool programs, the stories of Detroit families  show how simply adding publicly funded seats for the littlest learners isn’t enough—particularly when it comes to low-income families who often have the most to benefit from quality early childhood education programs.

Of the roughly 30,000 low-income children below the age of 5 in Detroit, only about 3,900 are enrolled in a Head Start program. Funding for about 850 Head Start slots goes unused. (Head Start is federally funded but delivered by hundreds of local agencies that can be public, private, for-profit, or nonprofit. Initially, it served low-income 3- to 5-year-olds but expanded in the 1990s to serve younger children as well.) Some parents don’t know of the program’s existence; others struggle to navigate a complicated landscape of Head Start providers with impenetrable enrollment procedures.