One of the federal government programs slated for cuts is Head Start, which President Lyndon Johnson first deployed in 1965 as part of his War on Poverty. President Obama wants a Head Start budget of $8.2 billion, up from the current level of $7.2 billion. Republicans want $2 billion in cuts to the federal early-education program, which even federal agencies have found ineffective and rife with fraud.
Head Start: Undercover Testing Finds Fraud and Abuse at Selected Head Start Centers, a 2010 report of the General Accounting Office, found that federal government employees falsified eligibility data on a broad scale. As for effectiveness, Head Start Impact Study Final Report, a 2010 study by the federal Department of Health and Human Services, found that “the benefits of access to Head Start at age four are largely absent by 1st grade for the program population as a whole.”
Richard Gelles, dean of the School of Social Policy and Practice at University of Pennsylvania, noted that and other failures in his recent book The Third Lie: Why Government Programs Don’t work—And a Blueprint for Change. He also noted that Head Start serves 900,000 children and has approximately 250,000 paid employees. So while the children derive little lasting benefit from the program, federal employees have a stake in keeping it all going.
The GAO and HHS reports did not call for cuts to Head Start based on their own findings, much less that the ineffective and wasteful program should be ended or phased out. “The social service emperor has no clothes,” says Gelles, and “once government programs are established, it is extremely difficult to change them, irrespective of whether they help or harm.” But despite the title of his book, Gelles thinks government programs such as Social Security and Medicare are working well. His main beef with ineffective programs like Head Start is that they block new government programs like the one he has in mind.
Gelles wants a government “futures account,” like Hillary Clinton’s “Baby Bond,” which would deposit $3000 a year for 18 years for every child born in the United States, with no disqualifying factors. That grandiose scheme certainly gives new meaning to in loco parentis. Taxpayers should not be surprised if this shows up during Obama’s second term, or when Hillary Clinton makes her expected run for the presidency in 2016.