Child­care Net­work pulling out as ad­min­is­tra­tor of Head Start pro­grams

Ledger-Enquirer - - Local - BY TONY ADAMS tadams@ledger-en­quirer.com

Ser­vices pro­vided to roughly 1,000 chil­dren from low-in­come fam­i­lies who rely on Head Start and Early Head Start fa­cil­i­ties in six west-cen­tral Ge­or­gia coun­ties are not ex­pected to be in­ter­rupted fol­low­ing a Colum­bus com­pany’s de­ci­sion to pull out as an ad­min­is­tra­tor of the grant pro­gram.

Colum­bus-based Child­care Net­work, a pri­vate for-profit com­pany that op­er­ates about 260 tra­di­tional day-care cen­ters in 11 states, in­clud­ing sev­eral fa­cil­i­ties in Colum­bus, has let state and fed­eral agen­cies know that as of Jan­uary it will no longer op­er­ate more than a dozen fed­er­ally funded Head Start lo­ca­tions in the coun­ties of Har­ris, Troup, Coweta, Car­roll, Heard and Meri­wether.

The com­pany also re­cently sub­mit­ted a Worker Ad­just­ment and Re­train­ing No­ti­fi­ca­tion (WARN) fil­ing with Ge­or­gia’s Work­force Di­vi­sion stat­ing that it would no longer be em­ploy­ing 146 peo­ple at the af­fected fa­cil­i­ties start­ing Jan. 1.

The bulk of those work­ers are teach­ers at the Head Start and Early Head Start cen­ters, which are op­er­ated un­der a sub­sidiary of the pri­mary Colum­bus com­pany. It has been han­dling the fa­cil­i­ties, which are free to those who qual­ify un­der the fed­er­ally funded grant pro­gram, since May 2015 af­ter bid­ding for it in 2014.

“We have cho­sen to re­lin­quish our ad­min­is­tra­tion of that grant ef­fec­tive at the end of the year,” said Chris Smith, pres­i­dent of Child­care Net­work Inc., which was founded in 1988 and has grown since then as a for-profit op­er­a­tor of ed­u­ca­tion-ori­ented day-care cen­ters in Alabama, Ari­zona, Arkansas, Florida, Ge­or­gia, Ken­tucky, North Carolina, Ok­la­homa, Ten­nessee, Texas and Vir­ginia. The Ari­zona cen­ters use the “Sun­rise Preschool” brand.

“Ul­ti­mately, it’s not our

core busi­ness,” Smith said of the de­ci­sion to exit the Head Start and Early Head Start grant pro­gram. “Our core busi­ness is a for-profit busi­ness in the child-care busi­ness, pre-k, child-care sub­sidy, those kinds of pro­grams ... tra­di­tional child care for work­ing par­ents. Head Start is specif­i­cally tar­geted for the lower eco­nomic spec­trum, fam­i­lies that are near the poverty level.”

Reg Grif­fin, chief com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cer with Bright from the Start: Ge­or­gia Depart­ment of Early Care and Learn­ing in At­lanta, con­firmed Wed­nes­day that a Den­ver­based grant op­er­a­tor called Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment In­sti­tute, or CDI, will take over the fa­cil­i­ties in the six coun­ties as Child­care Net­work ex­its.

Smith said there are nine Head Start-only cen­ters in the af­fected area, with four of its ex­ist­ing tra­di­tional Child­care Net­work lo­ca­tions also serv­ing chil­dren in the area through the fed­er­ally funded Head Start and Early Head Start pro­gram.

The im­pacted cen­ters are over­seen by the fed­eral Of­fice of Head Start. Grif­fin said the cur­rent fund­ing in the six coun­ties is for 771 preschool­ers in the Head Start pro­gram and 230 in­fants and tod­dlers in the Early Head Start pro­gram. Smith said cur­rent to­tal en­roll­ment is “slightly be­low” that po­ten­tial to­tal of 1,001 chil­dren.

Of­fice of Head Start, which falls un­der the U.S. Depart­ment of Health & Hu­man Ser­vices’ Ad­min­is­tra­tion for Chil­dren & Fam­i­lies, man­ages grant money and over­sees en­ti­ties of­fer­ing ed­u­ca­tion, health and so­cial ser­vices to chil­dren ages 5 and un­der from low-in­come fam­i­lies.

“CDI is funded by the Of­fice of Head Start to act as the in­terim grantee when grants are re­lin­quished or ter­mi­nated in a Head Start com­mu­nity,” Grif­fin said via email. “CDI will op­er­ate the (Early Head Start/Head Start) grant un­til the Of­fice of Head Start de­ter­mines the pro­gram is ready to be bid out as a grant-funded op­por­tu­nity to the pub­lic.”

The bot­tom line for those us­ing the fa­cil­i­ties and the em­ploy­ees work­ing there is that there should not be any im­me­di­ate changes as the tran­si­tion from Child­care Net­work to CDI oc­curs. The grant Child­care Net­work is now op­er­at­ing un­der is sched­uled to end in 2020.

“Hope­fully, their goal is to con­tinue to run the pro­gram in th­ese cen­ters, but that will not be Child­care Net­work’s de­ci­sion. That will be their de­ci­sion,” Smith said of Of­fice of Head Start. “But we’re hope­ful that the grant will con­tinue with an­other ad­min­is­tra­tor of the grant rather than us.”

Child­care Net­work’s tra­di­tional for-profit busi­ness has about 5,500 staffers on its pay­roll in the 11 states in which it op­er­ates. The firm’s largest pres­ence is in Ge­or­gia with 73 cen­ters, ac­cord­ing to its web­site, fol­lowed by 69 in North Carolina. It has seven cen­ters in Alabama, 28 in Ari­zona, 13 in Arkansas, 20 in Florida, four in Ken­tucky, six in Ok­la­homa, eight in Ten­nessee, 21 in Texas and six in Vir­ginia.

About 200 peo­ple are em­ployed in the Colum­bus-Phenix City area, in­clud­ing 60 at its 6053 Vet­er­ans Park­way cor­po­rate head­quar­ters. The com­pany uses the slo­gan, “The Work­ing Par­ent’s Best Friend.”

Grif­fin said the Head Start and Early Head Start fa­cil­i­ties im­pacted by the change in grant ad­min­is­tra­tors are lo­cated in the Ge­or­gia cities of LaGrange, Hamil­ton, West Point, Greenville, New­nan, Car­roll­ton, Har­al­son and Franklin. The county with the most fa­cil­i­ties is Troup, which has six of the Head Start fa­cil­i­ties op­er­ated by Child­care Net­work.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Colum­bus-based Child­care Net­work is pulling out of a fed­er­ally funded Head Start and Early Head Start pro­gram that serves up to 1,000 low-in­come chil­dren and em­ploys 146 at fa­cil­i­ties in six coun­ties in west-cen­tral Ge­or­gia.

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