Preschool Education:

Federal Investment for Low-Income Children Significant but Effectiveness Unclear

T-HEHS-00-83: Published: Apr 11, 2000. Publicly Released: Apr 11, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed preschool education for children of low-income families, focusing on: (1) the federal and state commitment to preschool programs, including funding and collaborative efforts; and (2) what is known about the effectiveness of federal preschool programs.

GAO noted that: (1) the federal investment in preschool programs for low-income children is considerable; (2) annually, the federal government provides about $4.6 billion in funds for preschool education and about $4.4 billion a year for federal block grants, such as the Child Care Development Fund, some portion of which is used for preschool education; (3) state governments provide about another $2 billion annually to support preschool programs; (4) Head Start, administered by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and Even Start, administered by the Department of Education, are two federal programs that focus on developing cognitive and other skills needed to prepare children for school; (5) in addition, in some communities, title I funds, which support elementary and secondary education programs for economically and educationally disadvantaged children, are also used for preschool programs; (6) federally funded and state-funded preschool programs typically serve children only part of a day and thus do not always accommodate the schedules of working parents; (7) in some states, federal and state officials have collaborated to provide full-day services by bringing together both child care and preschool services; (8) given the considerable investment at the federal level, it is important to know how effectively the different programs prepare children for school; (9) although Head Start and Even Start studies have shown that the skills of participating children have improved, the studies have not provided definitive results on effectiveness--that is, the extent to which these improvements can be attributed to the programs; (10) however, HHS and Education are making progress in assessing the effectiveness of their preschool programs; and (11) in contrast, the effectiveness of block grant funds is not being evaluated for school readiness because it is not a primary goal of these programs.

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