Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell confirmed weeks of speculation Wednesday, Sept. 18, saying he wants to hand off the $23 million federally funded contract county government has to provide Head Start services.
But Luttrell has some conditions. If he doesn’t see someone who is willing to leverage private funding to expand the early childhood services – including pre-kindergarten – even further, his administration will apply for a renewal by the Oct. 22 deadline.
Luttrell talked in detail about the future of Head Start services the county has controlled for the last decade the day after Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson said he is exploring a bid for the program. Hopson said Tuesday that he is exploring a county school system contract in which the school system would contract with providers and align what the centers do with the school system’s emphasis on all third graders reading at grade level.
“I’ve always been concerned about our inability to cover the number of children that really need Head Start,” Luttrell told Shelby County Commissioners in their committee sessions. “We are now serving roughly 3,200 children with $23 million. We’re barely scratching the surface as far as the need in this area.”
So Luttrell has his staff preparing an application to renew the $23 million in federal funding the county gets. But he hasn’t decided yet if he will submit the application by the Oct. 22 deadline to get it to the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
“I just think it can be done better and more efficiently outside of the realm of county government,” Luttrell said, adding county government took over the program because of problems the previous provider had. “It was never the intent that Head Start would be permanently in county government.”
A resolution by the commission urging the school system to apply for the federal funding was approved by the seven commissioners in the committee session and goes to the full 13-member commission at its Monday, Sept. 23, meeting.
Luttrell commented after weeks of speculation among parents of children in Head Start as well as providers. He acknowledged the rumors and said the changes he would like to see in the program are part of a changing public education environment.
“I think we are going to have to go through a sea change in Shelby County as far as it relates to everything from early Head Start or pre-K to Head Start to K-12 education,” Luttrell said. “It’s all very much a fluid issue. … All of this progress is coming at a cost of anxiety to the public, anxiety to people who are invested directly in the programs and certainly it really requires us to be as transparent as we can be.”