Head Start is open for applications: What parents and teachers need to know

Head Start, the free preschool service for low-income kids, is returning to Louisville after more than a year without funding.

Two organizations — the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative and the Family and Children’s Place — are splitting more than $16 million in federal funds to offer preschool to the youngest learners in Jefferson County.

Parents of kids younger than 5 can now apply to be in Head Start or Early Head Start. The two programs plan on serving more than 1,000 students in the first year.

The two agencies are expecting to hire more than 300 employees, most of them educators. OVEC is working with the Louisville Urban League to hire a teaching force as diverse as its student body, it said this week.

Here’s what prospective parents and teachers need to know:

What is Head Start?

Head Start, along with its sister program Early Head Start, provides free preschool for low-income kids.

The programs are designed to tackle a readiness gap between kids in poverty and their wealthier peers, hoping to level the playing field before kindergarten.

Early Head Start accepts babies and toddlers from birth to age 3. Head Start educates 3- and 4-year-old students.

Both programs run on federal dollars and report to their local authorizers and the federal Administration for Children and Families.

Families have to live at or below the poverty line to qualify for Head Start. For example, a family of four would have to make less than $25,750 a year to qualify.

Kids experiencing homelessness, living in foster care or receiving public assistance are also eligible, regardless of family income.

Where is Head Start?

Jefferson County’s two new Head Start authorizers — OVEC and the Family and Children’s Place — expect to operate multiple centers across the county.

OVEC, which received about two-thirds of the Head Start funds, expects to open centers in neighborhoods predominantly in West and South Louisville.

The first two centers are slated to open in Newburg and Fairdale in late January, OVEC spokeswoman Alicia Sells said.

Additional locations will open on a rolling basis throughout 2020, she added.

Family and Children’s Place intends to have centers in the Portland and California neighborhoods, on top of a few other spots in West and South Louisville.

Family and Children’s Place will also offer a home-based option, where educators will come to kids’ homes for 90 minutes a week. Home visits will be available throughout Jefferson County.

What’s changing?

Head Start will look different than how Jefferson County Public Schools, which gave up its grant in May 2018, ran the program.

OVEC will offer full-day Head Start on a year-round cycle, instead of JCPS’ program that followed a school day and year cycle.

A full-day program runs closer to a workday, meaning parents will be less likely to need to arrange additional childcare.

JCPS used to blend Head Start students with regular preschool attendees. OVEC won’t do that, using dedicated classrooms for Early Head Start and Head Start.

School buses won’t be available for kids to get to and from Head Start, as it was with JCPS. Parents will be in charge of getting their kids to and from the centers — a potential barrier for those without cars or reliable transportation.

OVEC’s family advocates will help parents tap relatives and neighbors who may be able to transport kids, Sells said, or find other ways to get to the program. Transportation may also be easier because class times will be more aligned with a business day which can better accommodate working families.

How can I apply for Head Start?

Interested families can apply for OVEC’s Head Start program now by filling out a form on the agency’s website, ovec.org.

The form is available in both English and Spanish. Parents can also call OVEC at 502-647-3533, ext. 233 to apply or talk with staff.

Applications for Head Start programs run by Family and Children’s Place are expected to open in the coming weeks, according to its website, familyandchildrensplace.org.

How can I work for Head Start?

The two organizations hope to hire about 300 employees for Head Start, and applications are open now.

Positions through OVEC and Family and Children’s Place are listed on their websites.

Interested candidates can stop by a job fair on Dec. 19 from 5:15 to 7:15 p.m. at the Louisville Urban League, 1535 W. Broadway, for more information.