Early Childhood Programs:

Many Poor Children and Strained Resources Challenge Head Start

HEHS-94-169BR: Published: May 17, 1994. Publicly Released: May 20, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Head Start Program, focusing on major themes and policy implications for implementing Head Start and other early childhood programs.

GAO found that: (1) about 35 percent of poor children attended preschool programs in 1990 compared to 60 percent of children from high-income families; (2) participation rates were particularly low for immigrant, linguistically isolated, and rural children; (3) efforts to provide eligible children with the full range of Head Start services are hampered by too few qualified staff, the rising costs of services, and limited community resources for many health and social services; (4) 59 percent of all disadvantaged children attending early childhood centers are in programs other than Head Start which often do not provide a full range of services; (5) some European countries have created integrated, seamless early childhood systems that avoid some problems of low participation, uneven access to services, and coordination difficulties; and (6) in implementing proposed changes to Head Start, Congress needs to consider whether sufficient funds are going to high poverty areas, whether providing already required services could strain the program's ability to improve quality, whether the benefits of linking Head Start services with other early childhood programs outweigh the problems and costs of doing so, and the quality of training and the types of benefits that teachers should receive.

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