12/12/2012 07:30 pm ET Updated Feb 11, 2013

Head Start Grants Still Undecided

The fate of tens of millions of dollars in Head Start grants that are up for grabs won't be known until spring, according to a spokesman for the federal agency that is overseeing a competition process for more than 130 providers of the preschool services for poor children.

The 132 agencies that must vie to keep their federal Head Start dollars were expecting an announcement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services this month. Those agencies--most of them nonprofit and community-based organizations that have been longtime providers of Head Start services--had to compete against other potential bidders to continue receiving their funds after they fell short of meeting new quality standards.

That process, known as designation renewal, is part of an effort by the Obama administration to improve the quality of the nearly $8 billion federal program.

According to Kenneth J. Wolfe, a spokesman for HHS, which oversees Head Start, an announcement won't come until spring.

Why the delay? Is it the fiscal cliff? Is the review process taking longer than federal officials had planned for?

Mr. Wolfe offered no explanation for the delay and did not provide a more specific time frame for the announcement. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported the delay in a story that appeared late last month.

Rick Mockler, the executive director of the California Head Start Association, said he'd always thought the agency's December timeline was too ambitious, given the enormity of evaluating complicated grant proposals.

But because providers had been led to believe that the decision would be coming before the end of the year, the delay could create some challenges, especially for new grant winners who will have to ramp up programs and recruit and enroll students in time for the 2013-14 school year, he said.

Many providers were already worried about trying to make transitions to new programs even with an announcement in December. ___