WASHINGTON, D.C., Feb. 19, 2020 — The National Head Start Association (NHSA) and Voices for Healthy Kids, an initiative of the American Heart Association, a global force for longer, healthier lives, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), today released an issue brief detailing the variety of ways state lawmakers fill critical service gaps for at-risk children and families by investing in Head Start programs. 

“Head Start programs support more than 1 million children and families each year in all 50 states on their paths to success, but millions of others are left out due to limited funding,” NHSA Executive Director Yasmina Vinci said. “At the same time, communities are grappling with a rising crisis of at-risk young children and families. Fourteen states already lead the way by partnering with Head Start programs to provide critical health, nutrition, education and family support services to thousands more children. Now more than ever, it is important that states invest in this ready-built solution that exists in their own backyards, helping children and families realize their potential.”

“Expanding Head Start programs in states ensures more children have what they need to grow up healthy,” said Voices for Healthy Kids, an initiative of the American Heart Association, Vice President and Executive Director Lori Fresina. “This includes education and social supports, as well as nutrition and physical activity through Head Start programs.”

The brief, More Important than Ever: State Investments in Head Start and Early Head Start to Support At-Risk Children and Families, compiles and distills information gathered directly from state government partners and state Head Start associations. The brief outlines the flexible ways states are committing over $400 million each budget cycle in state funding to the community-run comprehensive birth to age five programs specifically designed to strengthen families, promote school readiness and improve child health. 

While state investments vary from just $500,000 to more than $50 million, the brief demonstrates how any level of funding has the ability to amplify the reach of Head Start, allowing it to serve an additional 25,000 children nationwide with health, nutrition, education, and family support services and, improve the quality of existing slots to better meet the needs of kids and parents.

Over 20 national and state partners serve on an NHSA-led and Voices for Healthy Kids-supported coalition working together to expand Head Start to more children birth to age five.

“State funding for Head Start in Minnesota allows more vulnerable children and their families to have access to the program’s high quality, comprehensive services,” Minnesota Head Start Association Executive Director Joelle Hoeft said. “By building on the statewide Head Start infrastructure already in place, state investments efficiently and effectively prepare more Minnesota children for future success in school and in life.” 

“Early Head Start plays a critical role in the development of young children facing the greatest challenges but data show that the program only reaches 8% of eligible infants and toddlers, with a large variation in access among states,” ZERO TO THREE’S Director of State Policy Jamie Colvard said. “Expanding the availability of EHS will take cooperation and investment from policymakers and communities. We are excited to see so many states already taking strides to improve outcomes for young children through this critical program and encourage other states to follow their lead.”

“Programs like Head Start and Early Head Start are critical in breaking the cycle of poverty for many children and families, and in strengthening state economies,” Save the Children Action Network’s Senior Director of State and National Campaigns Kimberly Robson said. “I am encouraged to see state lawmakers investing in such programs, especially because more funding is needed to bridge the gap that unfortunately excludes millions of eligible children and families each year.”

For more than five decades, Head Start programs have partnered with families and communities in serving the complex needs of young children in poverty, foster care, with disabilities, experiencing homelessness, and other challenging circumstances. Numerous recent reports and studies demonstrate Head Start’s effectiveness in supporting children and families on their paths to success in school and life. By involving the whole family in a child’s education and development through an emphasis on parent engagement, Head Start strengthens families and local communities.


The National Head Start Association is a not-for-profit organization committed to the belief that every child, regardless of circumstances at birth, has the ability to succeed in school and in life. The opportunities offered by Head Start lead to healthier, empowered children and families, and stronger, more vibrant communities. NHSA is the voice for more than 1 million children, 270,000 staff and 1,600 Head Start grantees in the United States. Visit www.nhsa.org and follow @NatlHeadStart for more information.

Voices for Healthy Kids

Voices for Healthy Kids®, an initiative of the American Heart Association with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation works around the country to improve or create equitable policies that will make the places kids, live, learn and play healthier. Connect with us at www.voicesforhealthykids.org, Facebook or Twitter.

American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. We are dedicated to ensuring equitable health in all communities. Through collaboration with numerous organizations, and powered by millions of volunteers, we fund innovative research, advocate for the public’s health and share lifesaving resources. The Dallas-based organization has been a leading source of health information for nearly a century. Connect with us on heart.org, Facebook, Twitter or by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1.   

For Media Inquiries:

Suzette Harris: 214-706-1207; suzette.harris@heart.org

Robin Winchell: 703-260-7276; rwinchell@nhsa.org

For Public Inquiries: 1-800-AHA-USA1 (242-8721)

heart.org and strokeassociation.org