End Head Start, Save Marriages, Help Kids

What Women Really Think
Feb. 18 2011 7:12 PM

End Head Start, Save Marriages, Help Kids

Amanda, isn't the war on contraception just another way that "fiscal responsibility" always mean cuts to social programs? " Zeroing out" Title X funding (that's all federal funding of family planning) would save $327 million. I headed back to the New York Times' fantastic Budget Puzzle from last November to look for a few things we're not talking about when it comes to cutting the budget. How about eliminating farm subsidies? That's 14 billion right there--a whole lot of condoms. We could cut foreign aid by just 1% and more than cover Title X. Return the estate tax to what it was in the Clinton years and fund Title X for decades. But none of those options offers the moral superiority that comes with defunding programs that provide benefits to low-income women, benefits that, as you put it, can be painted as a luxury that only those who've earned it really deserve.

In at least one county in Maryland, you can add preschool to that list. We can debate the effectiveness of Head Start- early childhood educators say that a report released last January suggesting that the program's positive effects don't last past the end of first grade just means "disadvantaged kids need more than a year-long hit of high-quality early education," while detractors argue that Head Start ("a 1960's era relic") simply doesn't work-but even the  Heritage Foundation would fund preschool choice, not end early education or the help it offers low-income working families.

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But at least two County Commissioners in Frederick County, Maryland aren't looking to offer help to anyone. C. Paul Smith and Kirby Delauter both linked the county commission's vote to end Frederick County's contribution to its Head Start Program to its "make marriage work" program. Smith says his wife stayed home with the kids at "that critical age ... I know everybody isn't able to do that, but clearly, as we can strengthen marriage we can decrease the children we have to reach ... that is the best long-term way to help our children, as marriage is strengthened in our community." As his colleague, Kirby Delauter, says, "I mean, education of your kids starts at home, okay? I never relied on anyone else to guarantee the education of my kids."

So: stronger marriages equal fewer kids in Head Start. No Head Start means, of course, stronger marriages. It's tough to argue with that kind of logic, because it's obviously not logic at all. It's rhetoric, and ugly rhetoric at that. I have no idea whether the elimination of Head Start was the best way to balance this county's budget (I do note that it spends a few hundred grand yearly on weed control). What's troubling here is that it's become acceptable-again-to blame the parents whose kids are enrolled in Head Start. Obviously, if they just had stronger marriages, and better jobs, and just were better in general, they wouldn't need to rely on anyone else for the education of their kids. That same urge for blame drives the witch hunt against Title X funding. Any responsible individual-any fiscally responsible individual-so clearly wouldn't need it. It's a throwback to the Reagan era: politicians in need of a scapegoat, pointing a finger at the "welfare mom."

Frederick is just one county in one state, of course: a few benighted fogeys arguing that the best way to help low-income children is to return all responsibility for their pre-school education and care to their mothers, whose marriages will somehow be strengthened by this additional stress, are scarcely cause for national alarm. But I'm sounding one just the same. It's so easy for even the most politically-minded of us to stay clueless about the races that take up the lower half of our ballots. (Guilty.) Commissioners Smith and Delauter are proof that even we shouldn't get so caught up in the national rhetoric that we forget what's happening in the trenches close to home.