‘War on Poverty’ Report From House Budget Committee Criticizes Head Start

By Christina A. Samuels — March 06, 2014 2 min read
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President Obama’s budget proposal for fiscal 2015 includes more money for early education, including $500 million that would be used to help states develop preschool programs, more money for Early Head Start-Child Care partnerships, and an increase for Head Start, which would see $8.86 billion compared to $8.58 billion for the current fiscal year.

But a clue to how House leaders might receive the White House’s early childhood initiatives can be found in the House Budget Committee’s report on War on Poverty-era programs, of which Head Start is one of the most well-known. The 204-page report, released Monday, is intended to be an opportunity to review the record of the web of programs created to address poverty in the country. (In addition to Head Start, the report talks about many other programs, including Title I, the Child Care Development Block Grant and the Pell Grant program)

The committee, chaired by Rep. Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, marshals research that bolsters the concerns that conservatives have had with Head Start. For example, the report cites a 2010 Government Accountability Office investigation that found some Head Start grantees were encouraging some families to lie about their income in order to enroll in the program. The report also cites studies of Head Start conducted by the Office of Health and Human Services, the program’s parent agency, noting the so-called “fade out” effects that leave children in Head Start academically indistinguishable from their peers a few years after they enter elementary school.

But the report is not a condemnation of early childhood as a whole, perhaps a reflection of how preschool expansion is finding traction in both red and blue states. In the second part of the section on Head Start, the committee report offers an interesting collection of both supportive and critical research reports on early education programs other than Head Start. It says that the research into early childhood is mixed, and cites programs such as the famous Perry Preschool program, which tracked children into adulthood and found that participants in a preschool program had positive life outcomes, as well as a 2013 examination of the Tennessee Voluntary Pre-K program, which found some of the same fade-out effects noted in Head Start research.

Also included in the budget committee document is a reference to 2004 report arguing in favor of a better-funded, European-style, consolidated child-care system instead of the piecemeal programs currently in place in the U.S. Will we be seeing a proposal like that come from House leaders to counter the White House plan? Stay tuned.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.