WASHINGTON- A government investigative agency released a report Wednesday that was critical of the organization and effectiveness of current early childhood education and care programs.
The Government Accountability Office report, “Early Learning and Childhood Care, found that of 45 federally-funded early learning and childhood care programs, only 12 actually have an explicit purpose of providing early childhood learning or care. The other 33 are not specifically geared to childhood learning or care, but permit their money to be used for such purposes in some cases.
The House Education and Workforce Committee addressed the strengths and weaknesses of the nation’s early childhood learning and care programs at a Capitol Hill hearing Wednesday.
Kay Brown, GAO’s director for Education, Workforce and Income Security Issues, presented the watchdog agency’s report. It recommended that the departments of Education and Health and Human Services take further steps to coordinate their efforts with other federal agencies. Brown said the current system is fragmented.
“These programs are administered by multiple agencies. They are concentrated in the Departments of Education and HHS, but six other federal agencies and one federal state commission are involved,” Brown said. “Further, these programs overlap each other — meaning multiple programs have similar goals and target similar groups of children. “
In addition to the GAO testimony, education experts from varying programs came before the committee.
The panel discussed how to best use the money recently granted through the 2014 appropriations bill. Passed in January, it allocated $500 million for Early Head Start programs.
“My Republican colleagues and I believe we should discuss opportunities to streamline the mountain of existing federal programs, reduce regulatory burdens and improve transparency to make it easier for providers and parents to understand their options,” said Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., chairman of the education committee.
Another issue discussed was the quality of the options for public education available to American families.
“I think it is extremely important that we don’t slip into a mode of zip code education one-size fits all education for three-year-olds,” Grover Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy, said at the hearing. “Give [parents] the resources and they’ll shop and find the best choice for their child.”
The Head Start program was criticized in the hearing with Rep. Kline citing a Health and Human Services report that found that Head Start’s affects waned as time goes on, making little difference by the end of third grade.
“Serious questions remain as to whether these federal programs are producing the positive results our kids deserve,” Kline said.
Harriet Dichter, executive director of the Delaware Office of Early Learning, also stressed quality. “This means common framework of high standards, accountability, continuous improvement, and sufficient investment in the workforce and the programs to make a difference.”
Going forward Rep. George Miller, D-Calif, said he would push the Strong Start for American Children Act, a bill he co-sponsored. Miller wants to amend and strengthen programs such as Head Start and other early childhood care programs.