A Better Head Start

December 6, 2019

Nothing is more important to the future of our society – nor more critical to fulfilling our national commitment to equal opportunity – than the care and upbringing of the next generation.

That is why it is so important that we make sure the resources we devote to raising the next generation are being spent as wisely as possible.

Unfortunately, the science shows our current Head Start dollars are not being spent wisely.

Launched in 1965 and greatly expanded through its 2007 reauthorization, Head Start is one of the longest-running programs designed to help underprivileged children. Despite the program’s good intentions, Head Start has failed to produce positive results.

A Head Start study released by HHS in October of 2012 demonstrated that any advantages gained through Head Start are short-term and undetectable by the time a Head Start participant reaches the 3rd grade. In many cases, Head Start even has a statistically significant unfavorable impact on grade advancement among Head Start participants. The study also found that participants in Head Start had higher rates of behavioral problems than similar children who did not participate.

The best way to help children living below the poverty line is to redirect the billions of dollars the federal government spends on this failing program to the states and give them the full flexibility and freedom to control where, and how this money is spent on pre-K programs. This would allow those closest to the children and families being served to design their own programs — rather than spending all their time complying with onerous, one-size-fits-all federal mandates — and designate eligible public and private preschools to receive grants.

That is why I introduced the Head Start Improvement Act of 2019 this week. This legislation eliminates the federal Head Start bureaucracy and block grants its full $10 billion budget to the states. States would be authorized to spend these funds on pre-K education for underprivileged children, including through school choice programs that would help defray the costs of private pre-school tuition.

Few decisions are more intimate than how a family chooses to care for their young. Some may opt for a public program, while others seek out a private day care facility. And, of course, many rely heavily on help from family, friends, and neighbors.

Washington should respect these decisions and empower parents, communities, and states by making it easier to develop and tailor these unique solutions. The Head Start Improvement Act is a step in that direction.