President Obama and other supporters of increasing government spending on preschool have argued that “investments” on early childhood education yield big results later in life. As President Obama told an audience last March, “For every dollar we invest in these programs, we get nearly $10 back in reduced welfare rolls, fewer health care costs, and less crime.” The president and other preschool backers generally base these claims on impressive results from one or two small-scale preschool programs that existed decades ago and that have not been replicated since.
Unfortunately, a new (long overdue) report published by the Department of Health and Human found that the $150 billion that taxpayers have “invested” in Head Start since 1965 is yielding zero lasting benefits for participating children. According to the Head Start Impact Study: “the benefits of access to Head Start at age four are largely absent by 1st grade for the program population as a whole.” The Heritage Foundation reviews the findings of the new evaluation in a forthcoming Backgrounder report concluding: “Head Start has little to no effect on cognitive, socio-emotional, health, and parenting outcomes of children participating in the program.”
This rigorous evaluation was published months after the U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation favored by the Obama administration that would create a new $8 billion preschool program. According to the GAO, there are currently 69 federal early education and child care programs. Taxpayers are currently spending at least $25 billion annually on these programs.
Given the devastating results of the national Head Start evaluation, taxpayers should demand that Congress and the Obama administration work to terminate, consolidate, or reform existing preschool programs before another dollar is “invested” in preschool.
President Obama has stated that his administration would, “use only one test when deciding what ideas to support with your precious tax dollars: It’s not whether an idea is liberal or conservative, but whether it works.” It’s time to apply that test to the failed Head Start program. Taxpayers and disadvantaged kids both deserve to get more return on investment from a preschool program that spends $8 billion annually (or $7,300 per child served).