American Elephants

He’s Going Around Congress Again, To Get His Own Way! by The Elephant's Child

One of President Obama’s favorite “big ideas” is universal pre-kindergarten. It has long been a cherished liberal idea that the poor suffer from the absence of the advantages of the stuff that the middle class takes for granted. If you give them free phones, free food stamps, free housing vouchers, and free pre-kindergarten with breakfast and lunch, then they will become happy middle class people.

Republicans believe in a safety-net for those in need, but believe that you can best help people to get out of poverty by offering opportunity. We have lots of examples of accomplished black Americans who climbed out of a childhood of poverty through the encouragement of a strong mother, a grandfather, who saw to it that the child had the opportunity and insisted on the dedication and struggle to make the best use of it. Celebrated Neurosurgeons, CEOs, Supreme Court Justices, Scholars, Economists, Writers, Society’s elite.

Head Start was established in 1965, as part of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society poverty program. It originally was a summer school program that would help poor children catch up to their age-group with what they needed to know to start kindergarten. A federal program is forever.

It quickly grew to a year-round program, funded a program that would become Sesame Street. The program has provided education, health and social services for nearly 30 million children between the ages of 3 and 5.  There’s also an Early Head Start Program for prenatal outcomes, healthy families and infant and toddler development. There are programs for migrant and seasonal farm workers as well as Native American children.

Just before Christmas, Health and Human Services (HHS) were preparing to release their  long-overdue evaluation of the Head Start Program. Since it’s inception in 1965, taxpayers have spent more than $180 billion on the program. The HHS scientifically-rigorous study tracked 5,000 children who were randomly assigned to a group receiving Head Start  services or a group that did not participate. It followed their progression from age three or four through the end of third grade.

The first-grade study found that any benefits the children may have accrued while in the Head Start program were gone by the time they reached first grade. It also found that Head Start failed to improve the literacy, math and language skills of the four year-old cohort and had a negative impact on the teacher-assessed math ability of the three-year-old cohort. The results of the third-grade evaluation were even worse.

HHS sat on the study for  four years. They had finished collecting all the data in 2008.  In spite of prodding from Congress, they did not make the study public until the Friday before Christmas. A possible attempt to attract no attention at all?

Well, my goodness. $180 billion on a program that produces no benefits at all. Would you be surprised that many members of Congress argued that the way to fix this would be to appropriate more money? So they did. You will find another $100 million in new funding for Head Start tucked into the Hurricane Sandy relief bill — ostensibly to provide funds to Head Start centers in the Northeast  affected by the storm. The $100 million will be divided up among 265 centers at more than $377,000 per center.

Head Start fails children and costs taxpayers exorbitant amounts of money every year. And it’s just one of 69 federal preschool programs.

Congressional Republicans looked at the evidence and refused to finance a new expensive universal preschool proposal from President Obama, even with the president’s proposal to fund it by raising tobacco taxes. As the president has told us — if Congress won’t cooperate with his big ideas, he will just go around Congress — and so he has.

Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have turned to discretionary funding allocations in Race to The Top, a federal education grant to the states and even to ObamaCare. A provision in ObamaCare set aside money for both state and federal authorities to fund school readiness programs for at-risk children. There’s a $500 million pile of money for state education projects, and the Education and HHS have doled out $89 million to six states for early childhood education.

A far better opportunity would be if they just let the kids take their share of Head Start funding to a private preschool provider of their own choosing.  But we all know that’s not going to happen — even if we have all these piles of money sitting around in one program or another.

Just one of 69 federal preschool programs!!!

Throwing Good Money After Proven Bad Policy by The Elephant's Child

It does not matter how often you show that a program does not work, and in the case of Head Start, studies have been showing it to be ineffective for years, but — it’s “for the children.” When a study has just emerged and funding would seem to be questionable, you just tack it on to another urgent bill, in this case, Sandy Relief, and $100 million.

A billion here, a billion there, who can keep track?

On January 4, Congress approved $9.7 billion in initial relief for victims of the storm. A second vote on the rest of the $60.4 billion aid package is planned for Tuesday, and among the numerous items unrelated to clean-up efforts is $100 million in additional funding for Head Start, the LBJ-era program that already spends $8 billion a year trying to prepare low-income toddlers for kindergarten.

Since its creation as part of the War on Poverty in 1965, nearly 30 million children have participated in Head Start at a taxpayer cost of more than $180 billion. The problem is that by the government’s own reckoning the program has never achieved what it promises.

The first major evaluation was in 1969 by the Westinghouse Learning Corporation and Ohio University. It found that pre-schoolers who did make cognitive gains did not maintain them in early grades and that Head Start participants performed no better than children from similar backgrounds who had never been in the program. Federal evaluations in 1985 and 2005 also found that any positive cognitive impact was transitory.

President Obama has said that education policy should  e driven not by ideology but by “what works.” The administration in 2009 sat on a very positive performance review of the Washington D.C. school voucher program which it opposed. The Congressionally mandated study of the Head Start program was finally released more than a year late. Using the political cover of disaster relief to toss more money into a bad program at a time when the country is running trillion-dollar deficits is evidence of Congressional bad faith.

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