Congress Needs To Support Head Start Kids, Not Cut Their Programs

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By Joel Ryan, Executive Director of Washington State Association of Head Start and ECEAP

Special to the Seattle Times

Kirkland, WA (August 6, 2023) – On July 13, a U.S. House budget subcommittee adopted a proposal to dramatically slice up the Head Start program — making over 800,000 of our country’s most vulnerable children victims of the ongoing budget battles in Washington, D.C. According to national experts, roughly 80,000 Head Start children could be dropped from the program on Oct. 1 — 1,379 just in the state of Washington.

One Head Start program that would be directly affected is the Head Start grantee at Lower Columbia College in Cowlitz County. The program serves 271 preschool-age children, about 18% of whom are experiencing homelessness. Because of the tremendous work of Head Start, 11 families have acquired permanent housing while enrolled despite living in a community sorely lacking affordable housing.

The director of the program told me that if she had to cut 6% from her budget (the number the House subcommittee adopted), she would have to eliminate space for 17 children this fall.

So why is the House targeting high-needs 3-and-4-year olds? Honestly, it’s hard to say. In Washington, D.C., facts often get lost to political brinkmanship. But if facts matter, the answer is clear: Congress should be investing more in high-quality early education programs like Head Start, not trying to cut them.

Decades of studies have found that for every $1 spent on Head Start, taxpayers see a return of upward of $7 because children are more ready for kindergarten, graduate high school and college at higher rates, and stay out of prison. A new paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research estimates that the government makes 9% per year for at least 30 years for every child it puts through Head Start, due solely to savings on public assistance and higher earnings from participants.

During the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, Head Start provided early learning and child care to the children of essential workers including nurses, military service members, and farm and supermarket workers. One notable example is the Denise Louie Education Center in Seattle, which did not close at all so parents who had to be at work could get child care.


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