Head Start, which provides child development services primarily to low-income families and their children, is one of the few popular programs that came out of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. But following up on hotline tips alleging fraud and abuse, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) began an undercover investigation of Head Start centers in California, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin. Heritage Senior Policy Analyst David Muhlhausen details what the GAO found:

  • In eight of the 13 eligibility tests, the fictitious families were told by Head Start staff that they were eligible for the program and encouraged to attend class;
  • In all of these eight cases, Head Start staff instructed the fictitious families to misrepresent their eligibility for the program;
  • In seven of these cases, Head Start staff deliberately disregarded part of the fictitious families’ income to make these families eligible for participation;
  • In at least four of the cases, the GAO later received doctored documents that excluded income information originally provided to the Head Start staff;
  • In two cases, Head Start staff designated on application forms that one parent was unemployed, even though the GAO presented documentation of both parents’ income; and
  • In one case, Head Start staff assured the fictitious family that no one would validate that the income information submitted was correct.

Fraud is just the latest of Head Start’s problems. Earlier this year the Department of Health and Human Services released the first scientifically rigorous experimental evaluation of Head Start. And contrary to Head Start’s usually great press clippings, the study found that Head Start has had little to no effect on cognitive, socio-emotional, health, and parenting outcomes of participating children.