Next week marks the 50th anniversary of one of America’s most significant early childhood initiatives: Head Start. This occasion is an opportunity to reflect on the vital importance of early childhood education and reaffirm our commitment to strengthening this program for future generations.
Designed to prepare low-income children for success in school, Head Start provides comprehensive early childhood services to promote a child’s educational, nutritional, social well-being. Successful Head Start programs bridge the school readiness gap between the nation’s most vulnerable children and their more affluent peers by helping them enter the classroom on a level playing field.
Each year the federal government invests almost $9 billion in Head Start, or approximately $14,000 for each child enrolled, because we know, for many children, a ‘head start’ pays off in the long run.
I have seen firsthand what remarkable things can happen in Head Start classrooms.
Studies show a high-quality early childhood education can deliver innumerable benefits for children, local communities, and America’s economic future. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, successful programs can have “lasting impacts on educational attainment, criminal behavior, drug use, employment, and earnings.”
At the same time, findings from the 2012 Head Start Impact Study reveal a program in need of improvement. For example, while children enrolled in Head Start for a full year showed progress on all measures, the study also found that most of the gains children receive in the program do not last through the end of the third grade.
I have seen firsthand what remarkable things can happen in Head Start classrooms. During a visit to the Harlem Children’s Zone, I saw children engaged and excited to learn, and I talked with parents who knew their children were thriving under the care of great teachers.
Parents, educators, policymakers, and taxpayers all share a responsibility to ensure our investment in Head Start delivers a quality experience and yields lasting results for every child enrolled. Congress is committed to achieving that goal and making sure a well-intentioned program is meeting the needs of the children and families it was envisioned to serve 50 years ago.
That is why the House Committee on Education and the Workforce has launched an effort to strengthen Head Start. We began our effort earlier this year by outlining key principles we believe are necessary for a more efficient and effective Head Start program.
Those principles include reducing unnecessary regulatory burdens, encouraging local innovation, and strengthening coordination between Head Start and programs at the state and local levels. We also believe reform of the program should improve the quality of providers and enhance parental engagement.
If we can transform these principles into concrete policy solutions, then I am confident we can also provide every child enrolled in Head Start a high-quality learning experience that sets them on the path for success. That is where you come in.
Since Head Start opened its doors in the summer of 1965, the program has served more than 32 million children. As parents and members of the Head Start community who have worked tirelessly for these children, your voices are essential to understanding what is working, what is not, and how we can ensure the largest federal investment in early childhood education delivers on its promise to prepare children for a lifetime of opportunity.
I am hopeful Congress can work to send the president a bill to reform the Head Start Act that reflects your observations, experiences, and solutions. We have work to do. We need your help. And time is running out.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org by June 1 with your ideas, concerns, and suggestions. Your feedback will play an invaluable role in improving Head Start for millions of children and families in need.
John Kline is the U.S. Congressman for Minnesota’s 2nd District and Chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.