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Originally published Monday, April 15, 2013 at 8:24 PM

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2 Head Start programs to close after losing federal funding

Seattle’s First AME Child Development Center and United Indians of All Tribes Foundation have forfeited their ongoing federal Head Start grants after failing to meet performance benchmarks.

Seattle Times political reporter

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Two longtime Seattle Head Start programs have lost their federal funding and will shut down at the end of June as a result of a government crackdown on low-performing providers.

The First AME Child Development Center and the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation forfeited their ongoing Head Start grants after failing to meet performance benchmarks.

Both organizations have operated Head Start programs since the 1980s but lost out because the government — for the first time — is forcing troubled providers to compete for renewed funding.

“The rules are pretty stringent,” said Joel Ryan, executive director of the state’s association of Head Start programs. He said it appears the programs lost funding not due to any fraud, but for being “sloppy with some of their reporting.”

Both programs were told in 2011 they were among 132 Head Start providers nationally that had failed to meet quality standards — meaning they’d have to compete with other providers for their contracts.

They lost that competition. The federal Department of Health and Human Services is now in talks with three higher-rated Head Start programs to take over the services.

Head Start was created in the 1960s to pay for comprehensive preschool and related nutritional and social services for poor children.

The First AME Head Start program, affiliated with the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, will lay off 45 employees at its three Head Start centers after its money runs out June 30, said Johnnie Cain, program executive director.

First AME has been a Head Start provider since 1980, with centers in Rainier Valley, Capitol Hill and the Central Area.

The 256 children served by those centers will be picked up by other local nonprofits that won out in the competition for Head Start grants, according to Cain. “Their services should be seamless,” he said.

Cain said he had “no idea” why First AME was cut off. “There has been no discussion of how or why the grants have been terminated,” he said.

But federal regulators have warned First AME since at least 2011 about noncompliance with increasingly strict federal regulations designed to ensure that Head Start programs are giving taxpayers maximum value.

Among the problems cited by inspectors: First AME did not ensure children received required medical examinations, said Nancy Hutchins, regional program manager for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The First AME program’s board of directors also was criticized in a report by the HHS Office of the Inspector General that found a majority of the board failed to attend seven of the eight board meetings between December 2009 and February 2011. One board member attended none of the meetings.

The report also faulted the program for charging the government above-market rates for office and parking space.

The program received $3.8 million in Head Start funds between 2009 and 2011.

The United Indians Head Start program, at the Daybreak Star Cultural Center in Discovery Park, struggled in recent years to fix disorganized finances identified in an audit report.

But the program’s director, Robert Radford, said the center had provided “top quality service” to children enrolled. “There was no malfeasance,” he said.

United Indians has 35 staffers serving 148 children.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @Jim_Brunner

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