Slow Your Roll on Head Start

Jan 10, 2013

When the House returns to session next week, one of the items on the agenda will be tackling the remaining $51 billion in supplemental disaster relief spending for Hurricane Sandy. The House already approved $9 billion in increased funds for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP)-a program that has historically been poorly managed and needed several bailouts. Unfortunately, much of the $51 billion yet to be voted on is chock full of pork, special interest handouts, and spending so outrageously unrelated it would make even a trial lawyer blush with shame.

Embedded within the two amendment packages outlined by Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) and Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) are funds for the Head Start program-some $25 million in the Rogers' package and some $100 million in the Frelinghuysen package. The Senate-passed bill also included $100 million in funds for Head Start.

Now a reasonable question to be asked is how giving an additional $100 million (with no offsets) to "repair" Head Start centers qualifies as emergency disaster relief. An even better question, thanks in large part to Heritage's Lindsey Burke and David Muhlhausen, is why taxpayers should even continue funding this failed relic of the Great Society in the first place.

The long-awaited report out of HHS, which served as a follow-up for third graders who participated in the Head Start program, was released just prior to Christmas. The results were damning, which partially explains the timing of its release. As Burke and Muhlhausen point out:

Impacts on Cognitive Development. For cognitive development, the third-grade study assessed 11 outcomes for the original three- and four-year-old cohorts. Access to Head Start for each group had no statistically measurable effects on all measures of cognitive ability, including numerous measures of reading, language, and math ability.
Impacts on Social-Emotional Development. For social-emotional development, the third-grade study assessed 19 outcomes for each cohort. For third grade, access to Head Start had no statistically measurable effect on the 10 teacher-reported measures of social-emotional development for the three-year-old cohort. However, for the four-year-old cohort, out of 10 measures, access to Head Start is associated with one harmful impact. Teachers reported "strong evidence of an unfavorable impact on the incidence of children's emotional symptoms." Access to Head Start for this cohort had no beneficial or harmful impacts on the remaining nine teacher-reported measures.

Taxpayers have spent nearly $180 billion on Head Start since its inception in 1965 with nothing to show for it. And now, in the wake of this report, lawmakers are attempting to tack on wasteful spending for pet programs like Head Start that only serve to distract from the understandable goal of helping those trying to rebuild their lives following Hurricane Sandy.

The adage of "never letting a good crisis go to waste" has permeated both chambers of Congress and both political parties. Spending money we don't have on programs that don't work is irresponsible. Using a natural disaster to justify it is downright immoral.