FederalIssuesLocal NewsTaxes & SpendingHead Start Projects in Dallas Awarded $8.4 Million Grant, GAO Report Cites Concerns Over Fraud in the Program

The federal pre-K and child care program currently serves about 940 kids in Dallas County. However, multiple studies have questioned the program's impact amid recent reports of fraud.
February 24, 2020
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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently awarded a grant of $8.4 million for Head Start projects to the ChildCareGroup in Dallas.

ChildCareGroup has been affiliated with the Head Start program since 1965 when it served as the delegate agency for Head Start in Dallas County.  According to its 2018-19 annual report, it served 940 children in Head Start and Early Head Start classroom programs around Dallas County.  

“Through this generous Head Start grant we are honored to deliver our two-generation program model that educates young children and helps their parents increase their well-being and self-sufficiency,” said Tori Mannes, CEO of ChildCareGroup.  

“Access to quality early childhood education is vital to the development and eventual success of a child,” Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX-30) said in her announcement of the grant. 

Head Start began during the administration of former President Lyndon Johnson and was pitched as part of his “Great Society” campaign.

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ASSESSING HEAD START

The federal government has been funding Head Start programs for over 50 years for a total of about $240 billion. 

But a study done by HHS in 2014, which was a follow up to a previous 2010 study, highlights some serious questions regarding the Head Start program’s effectiveness. In fact, the HHS assessment showed that Head Start provides no lasting benefits to students enrolled in the program that are measurable by the time they reach the third grade.

“Head Start was created 50 years ago to eliminate the achievement gap based on the socioeconomic status of students,” Jonathan Butcher, a senior policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation, told The Texan.  “We still have an achievement gap in this country for low-income students.”  

In contrast to the long-term effects of Head Start, a separate study published in 2014 in the Journal of Labor Economics found that an incentive program to encourage mothers to stay at home with children under age 3 had lasting benefits on a student’s grade point average all the way into high school.  

A Pew Research Center survey in 2016 showed that 59 percent of American adults “believe that children with two parents are better off when a parent stays home.”

UNIVERSAL CHILD CARE

Notwithstanding what a majority of American adults believe, leading Democratic presidential candidate and avowed socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is touting his $1.5 trillion universal child care and pre-k proposal as necessary for America.  

Built “off the success of the existing federal child care programs,” Sanders’ plan would provide a broad-sweeping universal “free” child care and fund “free” all-day pre-K regardless of income. 

Sanders claims that Head Start is effective, but is not serving enough children and not reaching all of the families who should qualify.  

In contrast to Sanders’ statement, a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published last September investigated Head Start programs around the country and found numerous instances of fraud in verifying families’ eligibility.

The report encouraged the federal Head Start office to conduct serious fraud risk assessments to prevent ineligible households from enrolling in the program.  

In one specific example of potential enrollee fraud, the GAO found a file indicating that an applicant was homeless and had moved from Southeast Texas to North Texas as a result of Hurricane Harvey.

However, the file included a residential rental agreement in North Texas that was signed a month before Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Southeast Texas.

Of the 15 Head Start centers investigated by the GAO in major metropolitan areas, eight either falsely doctored enrollee information or refused to verify eligibility altogether.

Currently, a family must fall at or below the federal poverty level to qualify for Head Start. 

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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.