Cut Head Start!

by Katrina Trinko

Among the cuts being proposed by the House Republicans is one that would cut funding for Head Start, a program that offers preschool and early education services to low-income children. Under the GOP plan, Head Start’s funding would be $6.2 billion. That’s $1 billion less than its current budget and $2 billion less than President Obama requested in his 2011 budget.

This is a terrific program to cut.

Because, despite all the good intentions behind Head Start, the program is not working. It is failing to make any significant difference in the educational advancement of low-income children.

And that’s not based on a study from a partisan group or an ideological think tank. That’s the conclusion drawn by a 2010 study conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services, which reported that “by the end of 1st grade, there were few significant differences between the Head Start group as a whole and the control group as a whole for either cohort.”

Those few significant differences were that a slightly higher percentage of children had health insurance, and according to their parents, were slightly better at “closeness” and “positive relationships” (but not at “positive approaches to learning”). On the academic front, the only differences found were that first-graders who had been enrolled in Head Start for one year had slightly better vocabulary, while children who had been enrolled for two years had slightly better oral comprehension.

That’s it. There were no boosts, even small ones, found in the other reading and math tests. Essentially, by first grade — only two years after Head Start ends — Head Start attendance makes no difference to a child’s academic performance.

And in addition to being ineffective, a 2010 report from the Government Accountability Office found that eight (out of 15 looked at) Head Start centers were willing to commit fraud in order to allow children whose parents’ income level was above the eligibility level to enroll.

But you’re not going to hear about that  – or the academic ineffectiveness — much in the near-future, as Democrats try to turn the public against GOP spending cuts by emphasizing the Head Start cuts. From the New York Times:

Among programs chosen by Republicans for large cuts, Head Start is perhaps the most visible and popular. During town hall meetings during the last Congressional recess, many voters across the country, some carrying their children, pleaded for the program. Editorial boards have zeroed in on cuts to Head Start as draconian.

Democrats repeatedly refer to the program as proof that Republicans are being thoughtless in their approach to budgeting. “We don’t face the current deficit because of Head Start,” Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said in a speech on Wednesday.

Even if you think that spending on educational efforts targeted at low-income children should be a government priority (and I’m sympathetic to that argument), Head Start is not the program you want to fight for.

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