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02.19.2013 2

Obama’s Platonic Head Start expansion

By Bill Wilson “I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America.”

That was Barack Obama’s State of the Union plan to dramatically expand the current $8 billion a year Head Start program administered by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Head Start, which began in 1965 as a part of Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” has been incrementally expanded over the years from a just a summer program to being a year-round preschool and day care service for children between the ages of 3 to 5.

Obama claimed that “fewer than three in ten 4-year-olds are enrolled” in a preschool program. So now he wants enrollment to become universal.

It harkens back Plato’s Republic, which advocated children be mandatorily placed in the care of the state guardians at very young ages.

Except, right after his big speech, the White House contradicted Obama by suggesting that only families up to 200 percent of the poverty level instead of the current 130 percent would even qualify for his Head Start expansion.

Not exactly universal. But it will still end up costing billions more every year.

But does Head Start even work? Obama alleged that “study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road,” but he appeared to ignore findings from the Department that found the program was ineffective at best.

The study created a control group for children who were not enrolled in Head Start — these children were either in parental care or used private day care or other preschool options.

In fact, the study revealed that Head Start “had few impacts on children in kindergarten through 3rd grade” versus those who had not been enrolled. Why? “[E]arly effects rapidly dissipated in elementary school, with only a single impact remaining at the end of 3rd grade for children in each age cohort.”

So, what’s the point? If the program does not even enhance performance once in elementary school, then why spend any money on Head Start at all? It sounds more like a free daycare, which might be helpful to parents, but that is not the case Obama is making.

Obama lied just so he could pretend to “care” about the kids, merely for the propaganda effect. He doesn’t care about them, and he doesn’t care about the facts.

But if Congress really cares, perhaps they will eliminate Head Start and spend half that amount, $4 billion, in competitive grants to states that engage in early literacy programs with an emphasis on Phonics — giving children the building blocks they need to become successful readers and students in the future.

At least then you’d have something that actually might improve the students’ performance when in school.

By the Department of Health and Human Services’ own admission Head Start has “few impacts” once the child leaves, putting the lie to Obama’s Platonic fantasy. Replacing it with a literacy program just makes sense, after all, “reading is fundamental.”

Bill Wilson is the President of Americans for Limited Government. You can follow Bill on Twitter at @BillWilsonALG.

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