Can Head Start be run for a profit?

Since its creation in the mid-1960s, the federal Head Start program has traditionally relied on non-profit operators to run the early childhood program for low-income children. Now, Sarah Garland says at The Hechinger Report, a for-profit firm has entered the field and is expanding rapidly.

New York-based Acelero opened its first Head Start center in 2005, and since then has set up shop in more than a dozen locations in New Jersey and Nevada. The company recently expanded into Pennsylvania. Though it can’t profit directly from federal Head Start funding, Acelero is allowed to make money from “wrap-around” services such as extended day care that are subsidized by states.

Supporters say Acelero has improved facilities and increased staff salaries in the Head Start centers it runs. “They’re trying to be very smart about delivering good services to children and families,” said Yasmina Vinci, director of the National Head Start Association, an advocacy group.

But there are skeptics. “It seems someone would have to look closely at how they’re making money to make sure they’re not shortchanging children or ripping off the taxpayers,” said Janet Currie, a Columbia University economist who has studied Head Start.

Acelero has encountered its share of problems, including an audit that accused a Nevada subsidiary of inappropriately charging more than $430,000 to the Head Start program. There have been state complaints about staff conduct at two New Jersey centers. And the company has yet to make money from its operations.