Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Hatchet Man

Candidate Obama during the 10/15/2008 Presidential Debate: "Well, look, I think that we do have a disagreement about an across-the-board spending freeze. It sounds good. It's proposed periodically. It doesn't happen.

"And, in fact, an across-the-board spending freeze is a hatchet, and we do need a scalpel, because there are some programs that don't work at all. There are some programs that are underfunded. And I want to make sure that we are focused on those programs that work."

I remember reading about one of those programs that doesn't work, recently. It's a fairly big one, too: Head Start. Started 45 years ago, it is supposed to give disadvantaged children an early boost so that they can get the same benefits from education as children from better off familes do. The government has spent about $166 billion on the program. And, in theory at least, its a great idea. Who could object to those goals?

The problem is that, despite the theory, the idea does not seem to work. In 2005, the Department of Health and Human Services released a study showing that on most (42 of 44) measures the program's graduates and enrollees continue to lag significantly behind children from more economically advantaged families. Now there is a follow up study, which concludes: “In sum, this report finds that providing access to Head Start has benefits for both 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds in the cognitive, health, and parenting domains, and for 3-year-olds in the social-emotional domain. However, the benefits of access to Head Start at age four are largely absent by first grade for the program population as a whole.” (Emphasis added)

So, given the President's current and past comments on fiscal responsibility, what do we hear from Washington?

HHS Secretary Sebelius: “Research clearly shows that Head Start positively impacts the school readiness of low-income children."

Actually no, the research clearly shows just the opposite.

Back to Secretary Sebelius: "Now we must increase its effectiveness and continue to provide the support that our children, from birth to eight, need to prepare to succeed later in school and in life. The President has looked to HHS and the Department of Education to develop a coordinated and seamless plan to get children off to great starts, and to help families and communities to break cycles of poverty.”

I interpret that to mean that we must spend more money doing the same thing that has just been shown not to work at all.

Oh, and don't forget this:

In his budget for Fiscal Year 2011, to be presented on Monday, February 1, President Obama will propose a three-year hard freeze on non-security discretionary spending, to last from 2011 through 2013.

The country is in the very best of hands.

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