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Friday, April 01, 2005

New Rand Study Implies the Administration's Proposed Cuts to Head Start Are Not Cost Effective

In the administration's proposed budget, there are cuts to the Head Start program. According to columnist David Broder:

Head Start funds would be reduced $3.3 billion over five years, with 118,000 fewer youngsters enrolled in 2010.

A new Rand Study shows that Head Start delivers benefits that far exceed the program's cost and therefore that these cuts are not cost effective. According to the News Release accompanying the Rand Study (there is also an Executive Summary and a Research Brief):

Investing public money to make preschool available to every 4-year-old in California would generate an estimated $2 to $4 in benefits for every dollar spent... ...The study estimates that the cost of a high quality universal preschool program would be more than offset by benefits such as a drop in the amount of special education provided, less grade repetition among K-12 students, less youth and adult crime, and a more productive state workforce.

"There is strong and growing evidence that providing children a year of high quality preschool before they enter kindergarten boosts their achievement over a long period of time and prevents many problems," said Lynn Karoly, a RAND senior economist and lead author of the report. "Our analysis shows that an investment in universal preschool in California would provide a net economic benefit to the state."

...The study estimates that California society would break even by the time a child enrolled in universal preschool reaches age 14. That is the age at which cumulative benefits to California society first exceed the program costs.

“What the study does for the first time is to look at the potential benefits of a universal preschool program, rather than a program targeted only at kids who are at higher risk for educational and behavioral problems,” Karoly said. “We already know you can get a high return by just targeting the kids who are most disadvantaged.”

...Universal preschool for California 4-year-olds is estimated to cost an additional $1.7 billion annually. But that investment would result in an estimated $4.4 billion in new benefits to California over the lives of each group of children that completes a year of preschool, according to the study... ...Some of the benefits created by universal preschool, such as reduced spending for special education costs, would flow directly to the state... ...But an even greater portion of the benefits would accrue to society at large, through improvements such as lower crime rates and a better-prepared workforce... ...there also would likely be other benefits that researchers could not quantify...

Cutting the Head Start program is a yet another bad idea from this administration. It does almost nothing to help solve the Federal budget problem, it cuts a program that provides benefits that exceed its costs by some margin, and it is demonstrably effective in improving children's outcomes (see the Rand Study for citations on this).

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