Sen. Harry Reid’s (D–NV) comments yesterday about cowboy poetry may have received the most attention on the Senate floor yesterday morning, but his pleas for the failed Head Start preschool program were just as preposterous. Arguing against the omnibus spending bill under consideration, the Senator said:
Here are some of the consequences. … It will kick 200,000 Head Start students, the poorest of the poor—little boys and girls trying to get started in life—it will kick them off their ability to learn to read and do elementary math. Hundreds in Nevada will suffer from that. This is a very successful early education program. Head Start works.
To say that Reid’s claims about the merits of Head Start are disingenuous would be the understatement of the year.
An evaluation conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services—the agency that administers Head Start—found that the program, which provides taxpayer-funded preschool to low-income children, has been wholly ineffective at improving academic outcomes for the children it was created to serve.
According to the 2010 Head Start Impact Study, the program failed to improve the cognitive abilities of four-year-old children and actually had a harmful effect on the math skills of three-year-old children, according to teacher assessments. Overall, this 45-year-old Great Society relic failed to have a positive impact on 110 out of 112 outcomes measured.
As tragic as the negative academic outcomes are, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) also recently found fraudulent activity within the Head Start program. An undercover investigation revealed that Head Start staff told fictitious families sent in by GAO to misrepresent their eligibility for services by, among other things, disregarding portions of family income to make the families eligible for participation.
Contrary to Senator Reid’s claims, Head Start is anything but successful. More than $150 billion has been expended on Head Start since its creation in 1965, with no positive impact on low-income children.
If Members of Congress were truly interested in raising the academic achievement levels of low-income children and ensuring kindergarten readiness—Head Start’s stated mission—they would no longer relegate them to a poor-performing government preschool program. As long as the federal government continues to be in the game of funding preschool, Members like Reid should fight to allow these children to attend a preschool provider of choice.