A local nonprofit says the federal proposal could lead to the loss of up to 2,450 Head Start spaces in Washington state.

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of Head Start, a federal preschool program for children up to age 5 who live in low-income families.

Parent involvement has always been one of its key features.

But some advocates worry that a proposed overhaul aimed at beefing up academics will sideline parents, limit their choices and shrink the availability of Head Start classes.

One of the biggest proposed changes would make a six-hour preschool day mandatory for all Head Start centers.

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The minimum now is three and a half hours, which allows providers to offer a morning class and a separate afternoon class in the same building.  In Washington State, only 8 percent of spaces are full-day compared with the national average of 56 percent.

Meeting the six-hour requirement could mean the loss of up to 2,450 spaces in Washington, according to a nonprofit organization based in Bellevue that advocates for Head Start providers and families.

“A lot of parents aren’t interested in signing their three-year-old up for a six-hour model,” said the organization’s executive director, Joel Ryan.

The proposal is part of the overhaul ordered by Congress when lawmakers renewed the Head Start law in 2007.

Another big change would limit the power of of parent advisory councils.

Under the law now,  if there is a dispute between a provider’s board of directors and the parent advisory council, a third party has to help them work it out. Under the new proposal, the board would have the final say in any disagreement.

“If there’s any dispute at all, the board always wins no matter what,” Ryan said. “You can still beef up the classroom components without necessarily diluting the work that Head Start does with families.”

Anyone who wants to read the full proposal or comment on it can do so online here, but comments must be received by Aug. 18.