U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

11/15/2023 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 11/15/2023 16:10

Biden-Harris Administration Proposes New Rule to Strengthen the Head Start Workforce, Increase Wages & Support Quality Programming

When finalized, the new proposal would increase parity and raise Head Start teacher wages by more than $10,000 on average

Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) through the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) announced a new proposed rule to strengthen Head Start's ability to recruit and retain qualified staff, raise teacher wages, and provide consistent quality programming for the children and families they serve. The new proposed rule follows President Biden's April 2023 Executive Order, which directed HHS to develop strategies to encourage comparability of compensation and benefits between staff employed by Head Start grant recipients and elementary school teachers and make child care and Head Start more accessible for those families most in need. If finalized, the new proposed rule would raise Head Start teacher annual wages by more than $10,000 on average. And it will put Head Start teachers on a path to parity with public school teachers by ensuring that their salaries are at least equivalent to preschool teachers in public school settings without impacting children currently enrolled in Head Start.

"The Head Start program has long been the gold standard in early childhood education. For too long, our skilled and passionate Head Start workforce has been underpaid, which has impacted the program's ability to retain and recruit qualified teachers," said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. "Today, the Biden-Harris Administration is taking action to support the Head Start workforce, many of whom are women of color, and ensure children and families continue to receive high-quality Head Start services for years to come."

Over the past two years, the Biden-Harris Administration has secured more than $1.2 billion in funding increases for Head Start. However, a persistent Head Start workforce shortage has forced many Head Start classrooms to close, contributing to a nationwide under-enrollment. Head Start programs report losing teachers to other employers, including food service, retail, and other education programs, largely because they cannot provide competitive compensation. If finalized, the proposed rule would support and stabilize the Head Start workforce in the face of a national early childhood workforce crisis and help provide the highest quality early education to Head Start children who are further from opportunity. And while the quality and stability of Head Start programs will rise because of the new rule, enrollments will remain roughly constant.

"Quality early education must include higher compensation and better benefits for the early childhood workforce, which allows programs to recruit and retain effective early educators. The updates proposed today will improve the quality of services staff provide to children and families," said ACF Acting Assistant Secretary Jeff Hild.

The proposed rule also includes important changes to bolster mental health supports for staff and improve family support services.

"Parents rely on Head Start programs to be high-quality, safe spaces for their children to learn and grow. Programs across the country are struggling with staffing challenges that prevent them from serving more children and families," said ACF Office of Head Start Director Khari Garvin. "These proposed regulations are critical to stabilize and grow the valuable Head Start workforce so families in need can continue to count on Head Start services.

Specifically, the proposed rule puts forward proposals for public comment that will improve wages, benefits, and job-quality for Head Start educators and other staff, as well as enhance program quality for children and families. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposes changes designed to:

  • Increase wages to align with preschool teachers in public school settings, to make progress toward full pay parity with elementary school teachers
  • Improve benefits for Head Start staff, including health insurance and paid leave, and enhance staff health and wellness supports
  • Ensure better integration of mental health supports in program services
  • Improve child health and safety in program facilities
  • Improve family engagement services
  • Modernize the processes for programs to identify and meet community needs

The public is invited to submit comments on these proposed rules. Public comments are due 60 days after publication on November 20, 2024.