Head Start is a federally-funded program that gives low-income families the oppertunity to enroll their children in free pre-kindergarten programs. Students who attend pre-K classes are shown to benefit on many developmental levels and are 35 percent less likely to fail a grade later on in elementary school. Private preschools can cost as much as $10,000 per year.
There are about 49,000 Head Start classrooms across the U.S., but thousands of children are on waiting lists. “My friend’s son got in,” said Lamont Butler, a single father. “At 4, he can already spell his name, do simple math, and he isn’t so shy any more.” But Butler is struggling to get his 3-year-old daughter enrolled. Caring for her makes it difficult for him to find work, and he worries that she’s missing out on the benefits that others are receiving from this early education.
The program is open to families living below the poverty line, children in foster care, homeless children, and some children with disabilities. CNN reports that a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office investigation found that some Head Start employees committed fraud by allowing children from families with higher incomes to enroll in the program.
“Taxpayers are being ripped off,” said Greg Kutz, the managing director of forensic audits and special investigations for the Accountability Office. “The real risk here is that the over-income children were being served, and the poorest children in our country are losing the benefit of Head Start.”