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entitled 'Education and Care: Head Start Key Among Array of Early 
Childhood Programs, but National Research on Effectiveness Not 
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Testimony:

Before the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions U.S. 
Senate:

United States General Accounting Office:

GAO:

For Release on Delivery Expected at 10:00 a.m. EDT:

Tuesday, July 22, 2003:

Education and Care:

Head Start Key Among Array of Early Childhood Programs, but National 
Research on Effectiveness Not Completed:

Statement of Marnie S. Shaul, Director Education, Workforce, and Income 
Security Issues:

GAO-03-840T:


GAO Highlights: 

Highlights of GAO-03-840T, a report to Senate Committee on Health, 
Education, Labor, and Pensions 

Why GAO Did This Study:

The federal government invests over $11 billion in early childhood 
education and care programs. These programs exist to ensure that 
children from low-income families are better prepared to enter school 
and that their parents have access to early childhood education and 
care that allow them to obtain and maintain employment. The federal 
government invests more in Head Start, which was funded at $6.5 
billion in fiscal year 2002, than any other early childhood education 
and care program. Head Start has served over 21 million children at a 
total cost of $66 billion since it began. The Chairman, Senate 
Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions asked GAO to 
discuss Head Start--how it fits within the array of early childhood 
education and care programs available to low-income children and their 
families and what is known about its effectiveness.

What GAO Found:

Head Start, created in 1965, is the largest funded program among an 
array of federal early childhood education and care programs, most of 
which did not exist until decades later. The early education and child 
care demands of families have changed significantly since Head Startís 
inception. More women are working, the number of single parents has 
been increasing, and welfare reform has resulted in more families, 
including those with young children, entering the workforce. To help 
meet familiesí demands for early childhood education and care 
services, an array of federal programs, such as the child care block 
grant, have been added over time. Program legislation requires some of 
these programs to coordinate the delivery of early childhood education 
and care services for low-income families with young children. For 
example, to provide parents with full day coverage, Head Start, a 
predominately part day program, may coordinate with child care 
programs for the other part of the day. However, barriers--such as 
differing program eligibility requirements--sometimes make it 
difficult to blend services across the different programs.

Although extensive research exists that provides important information 
about Head Start, no recent, definitive, national-level research 
exists about Head Startís effectiveness on the lives of the children 
and families it serves. In its last reauthorization, Congress mandated 
a Head Start effectiveness study and specified that it be completed 
this year. According to HHS, the study will be completed in 2006. 

www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO--03-840T. To view the full product, 
including the scope and methodology, click on the link above. For more 
information, contact Marnie S. Shaul at (202) 512-7215 or 
shaulm@gao.gov

[End of section]

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

I am pleased to be here today to discuss our work on early childhood 
education and care programs, and in particular, Head Start, which many 
view as one of the most successful social programs. Nationwide 
attention has been focused on ensuring that children from low-income 
families are better prepared to enter school and that parents have 
access to early childhood services that allow them to obtain and 
maintain employment. In response, the federal government has increased 
funding for early childhood education and care programs to over $11 
billion. Head Start--the federal government's single largest investment 
in early childhood education and care for low-income children--has 
served over 21 million children and their families at a total cost of 
$66 billion since its inception in 1965; its funding for fiscal year 
2002 was $6.5 billion.

The reauthorization of the Head Start program offers a timely occasion 
for considering the two major issues my statement will address today: 
How Head Start fits into the array of early childhood education and 
care programs available to low-income children and their families and 
what is known about Head Start's effectiveness. My statement is based 
primarily on recent studies that we have conducted on early childhood 
education and care programs.

In summary, much has changed in society since Head Start was 
established nearly 40 years ago, including an increase in the 
availability of federal early childhood programs for low-income 
families. Changes in women's employment, family structure, and public 
assistance have dramatically increased the demand for early education 
and child care for low-income families. To help meet the increased 
demand brought about by societal changes, an array of federal education 
and care programs, as well as many state and local community programs, 
has been created for children from low-income families. The largest 
sources of additional federal funding for child care services come from 
the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) and Temporary Assistance for 
Needy Families (TANF). To meet the demands of families, some federal 
programs require coordination of services among early childhood 
education and care programs. To illustrate, most Head Start programs 
are predominately part day, part year programs, and they cannot meet 
the demands of working families who need full-day, full-year education 
and care services. In response to this requirement, some Head Start 
programs collaborate with other programs to provide families full day 
coverage. However, differing program eligibility requirements and other 
coordination barriers sometimes impede coordination efforts.

Although a substantial body of Head Start research exists that provides 
important information about the program, little is known about its 
effectiveness on the lives of the children and families it serves. 
Although the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) currently 
has studies that show that the skills of children who participate in 
Head Start have improved, the studies do not provide definitive 
evidence that this improvement is a result of program participation and 
not other experiences children may have had. HHS has a study underway, 
however, that is expected to provide more definitive information on 
Head Start's effectiveness in preparing young children for school. The 
study, mandated by Congress to have been completed this year, is 
expected to be completed in 2006, according to HHS. Currently, no 
preliminary results are available.

Background:

Head Start was created in 1965 as part of the "War on Poverty." The 
program was built on the premise that effective intervention in the 
lives of children could be best accomplished through family and 
community involvement. Fundamental to this notion was that communities 
should be given considerable latitude to develop their own Head Start 
programs. Head Start's primary goal is to prepare young children to 
enter school. In support of its school readiness goal, the program 
offers children a broad range of services, which include educational, 
as well as medical, dental, mental health, nutritional, and social 
services. Children enrolled in Head Start are primarily 3 and 4 years 
old and come from varying ethnic and racial backgrounds. Most children 
receive part day, part year program services in center-based settings.

Head Start is administered by HHS. Unlike most other federal early 
childhood education and care programs that are funded through the 
states, HHS awards Head Start grants directly to local grantees. 
Grantees may contract with organizations--called delegate agencies--in 
the community to run all or part of their local Head Start programs.

Array of Early Childhood Education and Care Programs Exists to Help 
Meet Increased Demand:

Families' needs for early childhood education and care have changed 
dramatically since Head Start's inception, and to meet the increased 
demand, the federal government has created an array of federal early 
education and care programs. Many of these programs are required to 
coordinate the delivery of services to low-income families with 
children. However, barriers sometimes exist, making it difficult to 
blend the services offered across programs to meet the demands of 
families.

Increased Demand for Early Childhood Education and Care Services Has 
Led To An Increase in the Size and Number of Programs:

Since Head Start was created in 1965, it has provided a wide range of 
services, through part day, part-year programs, to improve outcomes for 
children from low-income families. However, the demographics of 
families have changed considerably over the past several decades and 
increasingly, families need full-day, full-year services for their 
children. More parents are working full time, either by choice or 
necessity, and the proportion of children under age 6 who live with 
only one parent has increased. Moreover, welfare reform has meant that 
more families, including those with very young children, are expected 
to seek and keep jobs than ever before.

To help meet the demand for early education and care, the federal 
government has increased the number of, and funding for, programs 
providing early education and care services. For example, Head Start 
program funding has tripled over the past decade. Moreover, the federal 
government invests over $11 billion in early education and care 
programs for children under age 5, primarily through six major 
programs, including Head Start (see table 1). These programs are funded 
through HHS and the Department of Education. While these six programs 
receive most of the federal funding for early childhood education and 
care, many other smaller programs also fund services for low-income 
families with children.[Footnote 1] Funding under these six programs 
can generally be used to provide a range of services: early education 
and care; health, dental, mental health, social, parental, and 
nutritional services; speech and hearing assessments; and disability 
screening.

Table 1: Characteristics of the Six Major Federal Programs Supporting 
Early Childhood Education and Care:

Program: Head Start[A]; Agency: HHS; Program goals: Promote school 
readiness; Estimated number of children served under age 5: 912,000; 
Estimated amount spent for children under 5 (in billions): $6.5.

Program: CCDF; Agency: HHS; Program goals: Increase the availability, 
affordability and quality of child care services; Estimated number of 
children served under age 5: 1,260,000; Estimated amount spent for 
children under 5 (in billions): $2.2.

Program: TANF; Agency: HHS; Program goals: Provide assistance for needy 
families; end dependence of needy parents by promoting job preparation, 
work and marriage; prevent and reduce out-of-wedlock pregnancies; and 
encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families; 
Estimated number of children served under age 5: 350,000; Estimated 
amount spent for children under 5 (in billions): $1.3[B].

Program: Special Education--Preschool Grants (IDEA); Agency: 
Education; Program goals: Ensure that children with disabilities have 
access to a free and appropriate public education; Estimated number of 
children served under age 5: 316,000; Estimated amount spent for 
children under 5 (in billions): $0.206.

Program: Title I (preschool programs); Agency: Education; Program 
goals: Ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant 
opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach proficiency on 
challenging state standards and academic assessments; Estimated number 
of children served under age 5: 313,000; Estimated amount spent for 
children under 5 (in billions): $0.407.

Program: Even Start; Agency: Education; Program goals: Improve the 
educational opportunities of low-income families by integrating early 
childhood education, adult literacy or adult basic education, and 
parenting education into a unified family literacy program; Estimated 
number of children served under age 5: 25,500; Estimated amount spent 
for children under 5 (in billions): c.

Sources: Programs' legislation and regulation.

Note: Unless otherwise indicated, number of children and funding for 
them are fiscal year 1999 estimates as determined through our survey. 
With the exception of Head Start, these are the most recent data 
available estimating the number of children under age 5 served.

[A] Number of children based on fiscal year 2002 data and funding 
reflects 2002 appropriation.

[B] May include funds expended directly on child care and transferred 
to CCDF.

[C] Estimate of the amount spent on children under age 5 is not 
available.

[End of table]

All of the programs--with the exception of IDEA--specifically target 
low-income children and their families, though they may actually serve 
different populations and age ranges of children. For example, Even 
Start programs serve a larger percentage of Hispanic children and a 
broader age range of children than Head Start.[Footnote 2] Moreover, 
some programs differ in their goals. The primary goal of early 
childhood education programs such as Head Start, Even Start, and Title 
I, is to prepare young children to enter school. In contrast, a primary 
goal of child care programs, such as CCDF is to subsidize the cost of 
care for low-income parents who are working or engaged in education and 
training activities. In addition, states have the flexibility to use 
block grant funds to subsidize child care as states pursue one of the 
key TANF goals--promoting employment for low-income adults with 
families.

In addition to federal programs that support services for poor 
children, many state and local community programs also offer education 
and care services for low-income families.[Footnote 3] The majority of 
states, 39, fund preschool programs. Moreover, some states provide 
funding to supplement Head Start and fund child care programs.

Head Start and Other Early Childhood Programs Report Service 
Coordination, but Barriers to Coordination Exist:

To better ensure that low-income families and their children can access 
the services provided through the myriad federal programs, Congress 
mandated that some programs coordinate with one another to deliver 
services to low-income families and their children. As a result, 
program officials have reported collaborative efforts with one another 
to deliver services; however, barriers still remain.

Head Start programs are required by law to coordinate and collaborate 
with programs serving the same children and families, including CCDF, 
Even Start, IDEA, and other early childhood programs. Similarly, CCDF 
agencies are required to coordinate funding with other federal, state, 
and local early childhood education and care programs. To promote more 
integrated service delivery systems and to encourage collaboration 
between Head Start and other programs that fund early childhood 
services, HHS began awarding collaboration grants to states in 1990. In 
fiscal year 2002, Head Start provided $8 million to states to support 
collaborative activities. Moreover, in awarding program expansion 
funds, Head Start has given priority to funding first those Head Start 
programs that coordinate with other child care and early childhood 
funding sources to increase the number of hours children receive early 
education and care.

Positive outcomes have occurred as a result of early childhood 
education and care program collaboration, enabling some states to 
expand the options for low-income families with children. For example, 
Head Start and CCDF officials reported pooling resources by sharing 
staff to add full-day care to the half-day Head Start program and to 
add Head Start services, such as nutrition and medical care, to day 
care programs. At the local level, about 74 percent of Even Start 
grantees reported that they collaborated with Head Start in some way, 
including cash funding, instructional or administrative support, 
technical assistance, and space or job training support.[Footnote 4]

However, collaboration does not eliminate all gaps in care, and 
sometimes barriers, such as differing eligibility requirements, program 
standards, and different locations of programs, hinder collaboration. 
For example, program officials in 1 state said that the differing 
eligibility requirements between CCDF and Head Start made collaboration 
difficult. CCDF funds may be used for families with incomes up to 85 
percent of state median income, which generally allows the states to 
give subsidies to families whose income is higher than the federal 
poverty level.[Footnote 5] Head Start's income eligibility standard 
requires that 90 percent of enrollments be from families at or below 
the federal poverty level or from families eligible for public 
assistance. Thus, collaboration between these programs to achieve 
objectives might be difficult because some children may be eligible 
only for CCDF.

Effectiveness Study Underway to Determine Whether Head Start Makes a 
Difference:

Although an extensive body of Head Start research exists that provides 
important information about the program, no definitive, national-level 
research exists on the effectiveness of Head Start for the families and 
children it serves, prompting Congress to mandate such a study when it 
reauthorized the program in 1998. HHS has other studies underway that 
provide important information about the progress of children enrolled 
in the program; however, these studies were not designed to separate 
the effects of children's participation in Head Start from other 
experiences these children may have had. Although obtaining information 
about Head Start's effectiveness is difficult, the significance of Head 
Start and the sizeable investment in it warrant conducting studies that 
will provide answers to questions about whether the program is making a 
difference.

In 1998, we testified that the body of research on Head Start though 
extensive, was insufficient for drawing conclusions about the program 
as a whole and recommended that HHS undertake a study of Head Start's 
effectiveness.[Footnote 6] In reauthorizing Head Start in 1998, 
Congress mandated such a study. The law mandated that the study be 
completed in 2003 and was very specific in detailing the kind of study 
HHS was to undertake. Specifically, Congress required that the study 
use rigorous methodological designs and techniques to determine if Head 
Start programs are having an impact on children's readiness for school. 
The mandated study addresses two questions: (1) what difference does 
Head Start make to key outcomes of development and learning for low-
income children and (2) under which conditions does Head Start work 
best and for which children?

The study is using a rigorous methodology that many researchers 
consider to be the most definitive method of determining a program's 
effect on its participants when factors other than the program are 
known to affect outcomes.[Footnote 7] This methodology is referred to 
as an "experimental design" in which groups of children are randomly 
assigned either to a group that will receive program services or to a 
group that will not receive program services. This approach produces 
information that is more likely to show the effect of the program being 
studied, rather than the effects of other developmental influences on 
young children (see fig. 1).

Figure 1: Experimental Design for Early Childhood Program Impact 
Evaluations:

[See PDF for image]

Source: GAO visual rendition based on requirements of experimental 
impact evaluations:

[End of figure]

The Head Start study is a $28.3 million national impact evaluation that 
follows participants over time. The study has two phases. The first 
phase, a pilot study designed to test various procedures and methods, 
was conducted in 2001. The second phase began in the fall of 2002 and 
entails data collection on 5,000 to 6,000 3-and 4-year olds from 75 
programs and communities across the country. The study will track 
subjects through the spring of their first grade year. An interim 
report, scheduled to be released in September of this year, will 
describe the study's design and methodology and the status of the data 
collection; it will not contain findings. Although Congress required 
that the study be completed in 2003, HHS reports that the study will be 
completed in 2006. This study is a complex, multiyear, longitudinal 
study and considerable attention had to be given to both study planning 
and execution. According to HHS, many aspects of the study needed to be 
pilot tested before the larger study could begin.

In another effort, Head Start is collecting outcome data on a 
nationally representative sample of Head Start children and families as 
part of its Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES). FACES is an 
ongoing, longitudinal study of Head Start programs that uses a national 
sample of 3,200 children. FACES provides national data on Head Start 
child outcomes, family involvement, and key aspects of program quality 
and teaching practices. New findings from FACES research published in 
2003 show that children enrolled in Head Start demonstrated progress in 
early literacy and social skills; however, their overall performance 
levels when they left Head Start was below that of children nationally 
in terms of school readiness.[Footnote 8] This study, however, was not 
designed to provide definitive data about whether the initial gains 
children made in early literacy and social skills resulted from their 
participation in Head Start or some other experiences children may have 
had.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared statement. I will be happy to 
respond to any questions you or other Committee Members may have.

GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments:

For further information regarding this testimony, please call Marnie S. 
Shaul, Director, at (202) 512-7215. Individuals making key 
contributions to this testimony include Sherri Doughty and Harriet 
Ganson.

[End of section]

Related GAO Products:

Child Care: Recent State Policy Changes Affecting the Availability of 
Assistance for Low-Income Families. GAO-03-588. Washington, D.C.: May 
5, 2003.

Head Start and Even Start: Greater Collaboration Needed on Measures of 
Adult Education and Literacy. GAO-02-348. Washington, D.C.: March 29, 
2002.

Title I Preschool Education: More Children Served but Gauging Effect on 
School Readiness Difficult. GAO/HEHS-00-171. Washington, D.C.: 
September 20, 2000.

Early Childhood Programs: Characteristics Affect the Availability of 
School Readiness Information. GAO/HEHS-00-38. Washington, D.C.: 
February 28, 2000.

Early Childhood Programs: The Use of Impact Evaluations to Assess 
Program Effects, GAO-01-542. Washington, D.C.: April 16, 2001.

Education and Care: Early Childhood Programs and Services for Low-
Income Families. GAO/HEHS-00-11. Washington, D.C: Nov. 15, 1999.

Early Education and Care: Overlap Indicates Need to Assess Crosscutting 
Programs. GAO/HEHS-00-78. Washington, D.C.: April 28, 2000.

Head Start: Challenges Faced In Demonstrating Program Results and 
Responding to Societal Changes. GAO/T-HEHS-98-183. Washington, D.C.: 
Jun. 9, 1988.

Head Start: Challenges in Monitoring Program Quality and Demonstrating 
Results. GAO/HEHS-98-186. Washington, D.C.: June 30, 1998.

U.S. General Accounting Office, Head Start Programs: Participant 
Characteristics, Services, and Funding. GAO/HEHS-98-65. Washington, 
D.C.: March 31, 1998.

Head Start: Research Provides Little Information on Impact of Current 
Program. GAO/HEHS-97-59. Washington, D.C.: April 15, 1997.

FOOTNOTES

[1] GAO analysis of Department of Education and HHS data using 
proportions based on analysis in U.S. General Accounting Office, Early 
Education and Care: Overlap Indicates Need to Assess Crosscutting 
Programs, GAO/HEHS-00-78 (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 28, 2000).

[2] U.S. General Accounting Office, Head Start and Even Start: Greater 
Collaboration Needed on Measures of Adult Education and Literacy, 
GAO-02-348 (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 29, 2002).

[3] U.S. General Accounting Office, Education and Care: Early Childhood 
Programs and Services for Low-Income Families, GAO/HEHS-00-11 
(Washington, D.C.: Nov. 15, 1999).

[4] GAO-02-348.

[5] In fiscal year 2000, the federal poverty guideline was $17,050 for 
a family of four while the state median income ranged from a low of 
$24,694 for West Virginia households to a high of $43,941 in Maryland 
in 2000. States have the flexibility to set income eligibility limits 
up to 85 percent, but generally set them lower.

[6] U.S General Accounting Office, Head Start: Challenges Faced in 
Demonstrating Program Results and Responding to Societal Changes, GAO/
T-HEHS-98-183. (Washington, D.C.: June 9, 1998).

[7] U.S. General Accounting Office, Early Childhood Programs: The Use 
of Impact Evaluations to Assess Program Effects, GAO-01-542 
(Washington, D.C.: Apr. 16, 2001.

[8] Department of Health and Human Services, Head Start FACES 2000: A 
Whole-Child Perspective on Program Performance, 2003.