The federal government spent $25 billion of taxpayers' money on federal preschool and child care programs last year, but President Obama is calling for big increases in preschool spending. Before Congress spends any more on preschool and child care, it should evaluate whether the current programs are working. Topping the list of programs that should be reviewed is Head Start, which serves low-income children at a cost of $9 billion per year. Head Start, created as part of the War on Poverty in 1965, is a preschool program funded by the federal government. By providing education, nutrition, and health services, Head Start is intended to give a boost to disadvantaged children before they enter school, and help disadvantaged children catch up to the other children.
Is Head Start worth $9 billion a year? A new study concludes that the benefits of Head Start to four-year-olds largely disappear by the time they enter 1st grade. A recent evaluation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that Head Start has little to no effect on cognitive, socio-emotional, health, and parenting outcomes of participating children. Four-year-olds in Head Start showed a beneficial effect on only two out of 112 measures. Three-year-olds showed only five beneficial impacts out of 112 measures, and one harmful impact.
While these disappointing results have been known to our government for years, Congress keeps adding more and more taxpayers’ money to the program. Congress should be basing its decisions about Head Start and other preschool programs on up-to-date evidence. What should Congress do? Congress should focus on terminating, consolidating, and reforming our current programs. For example, the Head Start program could be reformed to grant families greater ability to use Head Start funding to enroll in a preschool program of the parents' choice.
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