Universal pre-K is still among the goals President Barack Obama hopes to reach with or without congressional approval, saying in the State of the Union last month he would reach out to states to expand early childhood education programs.
But according to a government audit, taxpayers are spending $14.2 billion to fund 45 early childhood and childcare programs that are frequently duplicative, raising questions about the need for yet another government program.
“Millions of children under the age of 5 participate each year in federally funded preschool and other early learning programs or receive federally supported child care in a range of settings,” said Kay Brown, director of education, workforce and income security for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in congressional testimony last week.
Most of the programs, Brown said, cross over the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services, and that the two agencies began taking steps to improve coordination in December 2013 to avoid overlapping since the GAO first brought the matter to attention to the matter in 2012 – before Obama proposed universal pre-K at his 2013 State of the Union address.
“Last year, I asked this Congress to help states make high-quality pre-K available to every four year-old,” Obama said during this year’s State of the Union. “As a parent as well as a president, I repeat that request tonight. But in the meantime, thirty states have raised pre-k funding on their own. They know we can’t wait.”
“So just as we worked with states to reform our schools, this year, we’ll invest in new partnerships with states and communities across the country in a race to the top for our youngest children and as Congress decides what it’s going to do, I’m going to pull together a coalition of elected officials, business leaders, and philanthropists willing to help more kids access the high-quality pre-K they need,” he added.
A Department of Education spokesperson did not respond to phone and e-mail inquiries from TheBlaze for this story at press time.
Programs such as Head Start, which takes about $8 billion, needs reform and other programs need reforms, said Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
“This should be our first priority, not rubber-stamping a 46th federal program,” Kline said in a statement.
“No one denies the importance of early childhood education and care,” Kline added. “But we simply do not have unlimited resources, so we must focus on ensuring our existing federal investments are getting maximum results.”
Actual duplication can be difficult to determine, the GAO report said.
“Although some programs fund similar types of services for similar populations, several factors contribute to the difficulty of determining whether these programs are duplicative—that is, whether they provide the same services to the same beneficiaries,” said the report from Wednesday said.
“[T]he programs are differently structured, with some administered at the federal level and some administered at the state level with local service delivery,” the report continues. “Second, the nature of eligibility requirements also differs among programs, even for similar subgroups of children, such as those from low- income families…. Third, for some programs, relevant programmatic information is sometimes not readily available. Finally, inadequate or missing data, as well as difficulties quantifying the benefits of some tax expenditures, can make it difficult to study the effectiveness of these expenditures.”
Of the 45 programs, just 12 have specific purposes, the GAO report states.
“Most of them obligated less than $500 million each in fiscal year 2012, while the largest program, Head Start, obligated approximately $8 billion in that year,” the GAO report states. “The remaining 33 programs identified in GAO’s 2012 report permit the use of funds for delivering or supporting early learning or child care services, but this is not their explicit purpose.”
The Departments of Agriculture, the Interior, Justice, Labor, Housing and Urban Development, the General Services Administration, and the Appalachian Regional Commission, are among other agencies involved in the 45 programs, the GAO report states.
The two largest programs are Head Start and the Child Care Development Fund. Head Start is primarily education, while the CCDF was more geared toward child care for working parents. However, those lines have blurred.
“Historically, early learning and child care programs existed separately with separate goals: early learning programs focused on preparing young children for school; in contrast, child care programs subsidized the cost of child care for low- income parents of infants, toddlers, and young children who were working or engaged in work-related activities,” the GAO report said. “Over time, the distinction between these two types of programs has blurred as policymakers seek to make educationally enriching care available to more young children.”
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