NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Head Start Program to be Revamped

July 9, 2003

President Bush is moving quickly to revamp the federal Head Start preschool program. The most rigorous study to date of the program's effectiveness is still underway, but the administration believed the needs of the preschool set can't wait.

  • Bush says Head Start produces acceptable results in nutrition and health, but wants to remake the 38-year-old program for poor children by adding more academics to its mix of meals and day care.
  • He also wants to let states combine their state programs with the federal program.
  • Head Start advocates say that could tempt cash-strapped states to substitute the federal dollars for their own, in essence dissolving Head Start state-by-state.
  • A $28 million research project is now trying to determine whether the program -- which serves nearly one million poor children ages 5 and younger -- prepares youngsters for school.
  • The study, which won't be completed until at least 2006, will track more than 4,700 children -- but federal officials say reforms can't wait because Head Start students still lag their middle-class peers.
  • A recent report on the program -- which costs taxpayers more than $6 billion a year -- revealed that children who entered Head Start in 2000 still performed far below the national average almost a year later.

Delaware GOP congressman Mike Castle summed up criticisms of the program this way: "...a lot of expenditure for a little bit of progress."

Source: Fredreka Schouten (Gannett), "Head Start Could Be Facing a Major Overhaul," USA Today, July 9, 2003.


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