White House, Mum on Criticism, Stands by Head Start

The President is standing firmly behind federal funding for Project Head Start, in spite of some decidedly less-than-stellar grades given the 46-year-old Great Society program for preschoolers by his own Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and General Accountability Office (GAO last year.

That was the word from Press Secretary Jay Carney on Monday.  In response to a question from HUMAN EVENTS during the regular briefing for reporters at the White House, Carney made it clear he has not spoken to the President about the criticism from HHS and GAO, but stated that Obama “remains committed to funding Head Start because he believes it is vital and it is important.”

Citing President Obama’s references to Head Start (which has received more than $167 billion since it was founded in 1965) and his stated commitment to continued funding for it in the budget process during his last three appearances before White House reporters, I pointed out the criticism of the program from different sources.  Specifically noted were the criticism of Rep. Joe Walsh (R.-Ill.), himself a former inner-city school teacher, and of its administrative problems found in 2010 studies by HHS and GAO.

“Is the President aware of the critical reports of his administration when he defends Head Start?” I asked Carney.

In stating that he had not spoken to the President about the critical reports, and restating Obama’s commitment, Carney went on to say that “when we’re making budget choices, that’s a choice we have to make to fund that program, especially when we need to look at our government and the ways we fund programs with an eye toward future economic growth and development in this country.”

Obama’s proposed 2011 budget calls for increasing funding for Head Start by $1 billion.  As HUMAN EVENTS reported earlier this year, the impact study on Head Start ordered by Congress and finally released by the HHS Department in 2010 had several highly critical conclusions about the program, notably “the benefits of access to Head Start at age 4 are largely absent by first grade for the program population as a whole.”  (“Head Start Impact Study: Final Report,” p. xxxviii.)

In addition, a Government Accountability Office study (May 18, 2010) reported the program had “attempted to register fictitious children as a part of 15 undercover test scenarios in six states and the District of Columbia.  In eight instances, staff at these centers fraudulently misrepresented information, including disregarding part of the families’ income, to register over-income children into under-income slots.”

When I referred to the criticisms from those two government units in a followup question, the President’s top spokesman replied:  “I haven’t had a discussion with him about analysis of this particular program.  If you’re telling me that a particular program may not be run perfectly or may have problems with it, that may or may not be true.”

And, again, Carney repeated the President’s no-arguments commitment to protecting Head Start in the budget process, no matter what.  In his words, “the President is committed to Head Start, and he’s committed to investments in education, precisely because of the economic imperative we have in this country to make sure our kids are educated and prepared for the 21st century—because we will not win the future if we do not have the best educated workforce in the world, and that’s why he’s so focused on this even as we tighten our belts.”

In short, Carney might as well have been saying:  “Don’t confuse us with facts—even if they’re from our own administration.”


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