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Time to End Head Start

Head Start is a sacred cow of liberal politics. Suggesting that federal funding for Head Start come to  an end is tantamount to heresy, social treason, or LBJ blasphemy. It is neither. And phasing out Head Start is the kind of tough policy choice our nation must make to change the course of fledgling communities and America’s persistent deficits.

TIME FOR DELAY IS OVER

In a GraniteRG.com published paper, Rethinking Fiscal Policy, I argued that President Obama should have repealed the Bush Tax Cuts as he indicated he would during the 2008 presidential campaign. Then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed for this action as early as February 2009, but the Obama Administration failed to take action at a time that preceded talks on unemployment insurance extension.

My basic premise for this and other fiscal actions centered around looming fiscal realities. Namely, that the at some point, revenue and/or spending measures must be taken. And that the Middle Class and lower-income households would ultimately feel the sting of necessary fiscal measures; a sting that would worsen the longer our nation delayed addressing its fiscal condition.

Budget cuts are unavoidable. Despite the Labor Department’s U3 unemployment rate at 7.8% for September 2012 — a figure that only surveys 50,000 households — the U6 more accurate measure of unemployment remains at 14.7%. Further, at 1.7% annualized growth as of 2012-Q2, Real GDP remains sluggish, with a number of economists fearful of a recession in 2013. And the Fed buying US debt, artificially props-up the economy temporarily, but cannot continue indefinitely. Indeed, at financial markets will feel a drastic correction at some point unless major economic and fiscal conditions improve.

The American people — whether Democratic, Republican, Green Party, Justice Party, or Independent — would be wise to begin thinking about the budget issues. Presidential campaigns are maneuvering to avoid the undesirable choices before us. However, cuts are coming irrespective of who wins in November 2012.

RECOMMENDATION

This recommends that legislators reform the Community Action Program [CAP] as follows:

  1. Phase-out federal funding of Head Start over a 4-year basis, on a 75%-50%-25%-0% schedule, starting in FY2013.
  2. Passage of Early Child Investment Act [ECIA] that converts previous CAP funding to a customer-focused program. Namely, that Washington establishes federal standards for Eligible ECIA Providers that provide qualifying households customized choices as in the case of pre-school development.
  3. Federal spending for ECIA would begin in FY2015 and at a level equivalent to 25% of the CAP 2012 funding, and from that year forward at 50% of the CAP 2012 funding.
RATIONALE

Head Start vs ECIA - Budget Impact
Head Start vs ECIA Budget Impact

1. Budget Savings. Assuming an otherwise steady funding level, savings from CAP cuts would be $34 billion over 10 years. On December 23, 2011, President Obama signed the [Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012] that includes Head Start Act funds $409 million over FY2011 to $7,968,543,933 for FY2012.

2. Marginal Benefit. Community Action Agencies [CAA] began operations in 1965, implementing the Community Action Program (CAP) component of the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act as a part of President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty”.  has been around since 1964. Head Start soon became a staple of CAAs that sprouted up across the country. Coincidentally, I was a CAA Head Start child in that same year. While Head Start has grown over the years, the progress of aggregate education of in the urban core has slowed in many cities or declined when we consider indicators such as drop-out rates. More specifically, a recent [study] concluded: “…the advantages children gained during their Head Start and age 4 years yielded only a few statistically significant differences in outcomes at the end of 1st grade for the sample as a whole.”  The mission statement of the National Head Start Association [NHSA], a membership association for Head Start programs, includes, “To be the untiring voice that will not be quiet until every vulnerable child is served with the Head Start model of support for the whole child, the family and the community.” Some would argue that we the model has not produced measurable outcomes commensurate with the funding that now spans five decades. Given the serious state of our nation’s fiscal conditions, we can ill-afford to continuing models that have had decades of opportunities to demonstrate measurable impact. CAA appears to be a bureaucracy that suffers from organizational growth without delivering sufficient outcomes.

3. Consistency with New Public Assistance Models. ECIA modernizes early child development in the same way federal programs for various other priorities have undergone reforms. For instance, Workforce Investment Act [WIA] of 1998 transitioned federal skills development from an outdated Job Training Partnership Act [JTPA] regime, allowing federal funds to follow individuals, enabling more customized program design and expanded choices.Section 8, HUD’s low-income housing assistance program, also transitioned from federal funds ultimately targeted at single- and multi-unit dwellings to the actual qualified families connected with the Section 8 program.

 

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By Kenneth D. Price
October 07, 2012

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