Appearing on Fox and Friends yesterday morning, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who will sit on the powerful appropriations committee next year, advocated the creation of a new congressional panel to look for things to cut in the federal budget. When host Brian Kilmeade asked Flake for examples of what he would like to cut, Flake listed only two items: ethanol subsidies and Head Start, the venerable early education program which he said is “not money well spent”:
KILMEADE: But give me an example of what you’d liked to cut, where you saw waste already.
FLAKE: Well, our farm programs, for example. … Another program is Head Start, for example. We spend a considerable amount of money when study after study shows it’s not money well spent. And we’re going to have to cut programs like this, if we’re going to trim this budget.
Flake’s two proposed cuts, representing just $15 billion, would do almost nothing to reduce the deficit. But more importantly, they reveal a disturbing set of priorities, in which help for impoverished children gets the ax before legitimately wasteful programs, or budget-busting tax increases for the wealthy.
Head Start is a valuable early education program, which has helped millions of low-income children and their families through comprehensive education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services since it was started in 1965. Despite Flake’s claims that “study after study” show the program is a waste, “[s]ubstantial research finds that [Head Start] programs provide educational benefits,” help “improve the health of the children and families they serve,” and “benefits its children and society-at-large by reducing crime.” And contradictory to Flake’s claim, a longterm study in California found that “our society receives nearly $9 in benefits for every $1 invested in Head Start children.”
Certainly, Head Start has room for improvement. But the solution is to fix its problems and improve the program, not to scrap it all together. The Obama administration has been working to do just this, and has increased funding to Head Start though the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Center for American Progress has proposed several ways to improve Head Start, beginning with moving the program to the Department of Education from Health and Human Services, where it is currently housed.
But even with its problems, there are dozens of better places Flake could look to cut $7 billion dollars — a relatively meager sum that represents just 0.002 percent of the federal budget — than on the backs of needy children.