Head Start:

Additional Information on Implementation of Transportation Regulations

GAO-07-194R: Published: Nov 17, 2006. Publicly Released: Dec 18, 2006.

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The Head Start program, administered by the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), provides grants to local organizations to offer comprehensive early childhood services to approximately 900,000 poor children, ages 5 years or younger. While transportation is not a required service, in order to make Head Start more widely available to very poor children, over 70 percent of Head Start grantees and delegates provide transportation to at least some of the children they enroll. To address concerns about transporting children safely, the 1992 Head Start Improvement Act directed the Office of Head Start (OHS) to develop transportation regulations to ensure the safety and effectiveness of transportation services made available to children by Head Start grantees and delegates. In 2001, citing safety concerns related to vehicles as well as the variation in states' standards for pupil transport, Head Start issued regulations governing transportation services. Among other things, the regulations mandated that grantees and delegates use school buses or similar alternative vehicles and that children be placed in restraints and attended by bus monitors. In commenting on the 2001 regulations, grantees and delegates expressed concerns about potential unintended effects on Head Start programs of implementing these requirements, such as reducing the availability of transportation and thereby encouraging enrollees to use less safe modes of traveling to and from Head Start. GAO was asked to examine these concerns and in July 2006 issued a report, Head Start: Progress and Challenges in Implementing Transportation Regulations (GAO-06-767R), which found in part that many grantees and delegates had implemented the Head Start transportation regulations with some experiencing adverse program and budgetary effects in doing so. Congress subsequently asked us to provide additional analysis of some information that we obtained through our 2006 study. Specifically, Congress us to 1) compare the characteristics of surveyed grantees and delegates that indicated they were facing challenges with implementing the regulations to those of grantees and delegates that did not, and 2) provide information on the numbers of children transported by grantees and delegates that submitted requests to OHS in 2006 for more time to implement the monitor and restraint provisions.

Of the approximately 1890 grantees and delegates that GAO estimates were directly operating Head Start programs as of February 2006, an estimated 29 percent--or 540 grantees and delegates--either did not provide transportation services or had decreased transportation services at some portion of their program sites wholly or party as a result of the regulations. Based on the results of our survey, grantees and delegates that had filed extensions in 2004 did not differ in the numbers of children enrolled or transported from those that did not file for extensions, but had larger numbers of centers and used more buses on a daily basis. This same finding held true for grantees and delegates that had not finished implementing the regulations at the time of our survey compared to those that had. Grantees and delegates that contracted with or used another organization to transport some or all of their Head Start children were more likely to have filed 2004 extension requests than grantees and delegates that did not. Specifically, an estimated 48 percent of grantees and delegates using another organization for transportation services filed an extension versus 19 percent of grantees and delegates that did not use another organization. Of those grantees and delegates that partnered with others to supply transportation, we estimate that 60 percent used a school system. A total of 378 grantees and delegates submitted extension requests by March 2006, representing 19 percent of all Head Start grantees and delegates or approximately 28 percent of grantees and delegates that we estimated were providing transportation services at the time of our survey. At the time they filed 2006 extensions, these grantees and delegates reported transporting almost 75,000 children, or about 22 percent of the 346,000 Head Start children that we estimated were transported at the time of our survey. In contrast, GAO estimates that 2004 extension filers provided transportation services to about one-third of the total number of Head Start children transported in program year 2005, approximately 109,000 children of the estimated total of 346,000.

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