Heartland Head Start is well-established and has been providing services since 1965. During this time it has grown from a small program serving 60 families to a much larger program with over 400 children and their families in its care.

In 1964, the Federal Government asked a panel of child development experts to draw up a program to help communities overcome the handicaps of disadvantaged preschool children. The panel reports became the blueprint for Project Head Start. Project Head Start, launched as an eight-week summer program of the Office of Economic Opportunity in 1965, was designed to help break the cycle of poverty by providing preschool children of low-income families with a comprehensive program to meet all of their physical and mental needs. Recruiting children age three to school-entry age, Head Start was enthusiastically received by educators, child development specialists, community leaders, and parents across the nation. Head Start now serves over 700,000 children and their families each year in urban and rural areas in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Territories–including many American Indian and migrant children.

In 1969, Head Start was transferred from the Office of Economic Opportunity to the Office of Child Development in the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and has now become a program within the Administration of Children and Families at the Department of Health and Human Services. A well-established, though still an innovative program, Head Start has had a strong impact on communities and early childhood programs across the country. Since 1965, Head Start has served over 13.1 million children and their families. From the start, Head Start received strong support from the Federal Government.

The program is locally administered by approximately 1,400 community-based nonprofit organizations and school systems. Grants are awarded by the Department of Health and Human Services Regional Offices, except for the American Indian and Migrant programs, which are administered in Washington, D.C. The Head Start legislation states that the Federal grant to operate a local Head Start program shall not exceed 80 % of the approved costs of the program. The community must contribute twenty percent. The non-Federal share (the 20 %) may be in cash or contributed services. Head Start experience has shown the need of the children varies considerably from community to community and that, to serve the need most effectively, programs should be individualized. In addition, experience and data suggests that when Head Start programs are designed in ways that take into account community resources and the capabilities of the local staff, a program can often be developed that will improve service for children within present funding levels. Therefore, Head Start permits local Head Start sponsors to provide children with classroom-based or home-based developmental programs.

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Head Start Timeline