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Milwaukee Public Schools in danger of losing Head Start funding after deficiencies found

Head Start funding will be suspended for 30 days starting this week

Two children eat lunch at a table.
Two children eat lunch Monday, June 19, 2023, at Red Caboose in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Starting Tuesday, the federal government will suspend funding to Milwaukee Public Schools’ Head Start program — a health and nutrition program for low-income children — after the district failed to comply with the program.

The 30-day suspension is the result of three “deficiencies” the Administration of Children and Families, or ACF, found between June 2022 and May 2024, said MPS spokesperson Nicole Armendariz. 

Those deficiencies were related to following practices that “ensure children had appropriate supervision at all times; and ensuring all staff and volunteers abide by the program’s standards of conduct,” Armendariz said.

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As a result, MPS has made changes to expand oversight of its Head Start program including increasing communication, drafting new procedures, providing staff training, increasing monitoring and implementing virtual mental health consultations, Armendariz said.

“The ACF has asked for additional information from the district to demonstrate how the changes will be implemented,” she said. “MPS is working with Head Start to provide this information.”

During the suspension, Armendariz said MPS families involved in Head Start will not be affected. That’s because MPS will have to continue to pay for those services for the next 30 days, according to a spokesperson with ACF.

According to the MPS budget, the district received $14 million from the federal Head Start program in 2023-24. That amounts to about $1.16 million per month. 

MPS is counting on $10.5 million from the federal program for next school year, but the Head Start grant program is currently in competition, requiring the district to apply for continued funding due to the deficiencies.

That means the district is in danger of losing Head Start altogether.

Final award decisions for a Head Start provider in the Milwaukee service area are expected by the end of May, according to an ACF spokesperson.

Head Start and Early Head Start are federal programs for children under the age of 5 from low-income families. The MPS Head Start program includes health, dental, mental health and disabilities support and is operated in 37 schools. To be eligible for the program in Milwaukee, a family of four must have a household income under $31,200.

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