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Policy Post: Head Start Debated

March 16, 2011

Court’s Kids will periodically provide some background information on special education policy from the federal level down to individual school programs.

The funding for Head Start, a program for early childhood education for low income families, has been a heated subject in the federal budget debate. First, the House of Representatives passed a bill that called for over a billion dollars in cuts. Then the Senate defeated it last week. Meanwhile an effort by some Senators to boost funding of Head Start by $200 million failed, leaving some wondering how Head Start will be able to sustain it’s current operations once the stimulus runs out. The federal stimulus poured a lot of temporary dollars in education and Head Start was no exception. With the additional funding, the program doubled the number of children it enrolled.

While many programs have faced stark cuts, this is happening to Head Start with government investigations still fresh in political memory. Head Start has received a lot of scrutiny, the New York Times calls it one of the “most studied early education programs since its inception in 1965.” Studies show positive effects. Kids in the program tend to do better socially and academically and have a lower high school dropout rate.  Critics point to other studies that observe the effects of Head Start “wearing out” by first grade.

In budget debates, education’s impact is difficult to gauge as definitively as other services. With something like public utilities, you either have water or you don’t. At Court’s Kids, we’re all about the human factor that can’t be counted. The books we donate may not be worth a lot on paper (hence our ability to collect and distribute so many:)) but their impact is immeasurable. While the budget debate can be a numbers game by definition, the human factor is essential to a discussion of education funding.

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