Childcare Network pulling out as administrator of Head Start programs

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 Denver-based 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.