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Head Start gets most vulnerable ready for school

Mr. Mackowiak’s commentary (March 23) is a striking example of how misinformation can taint proven fact. His commentary regarding the value of early learning ignores several fundamental facts. First, the key finding of the Head Start Impact Study is that the Head Start children emerged better prepared for school than their peers. Head Start children outperformed the control group in every learning domain including positive cognitive, social emotional, health and parenting impacts. In fact, further follow-up of children through their early school years seems to point to the need to improve post-Head Start education rather than defund preschool.

A large body of peer-reviewed studies that Mr. Mackowiak failed to cite further demonstrates positive outcomes for Head Start children as they move through life. They are less likely to need expensive special education services in their later school years and repeat grades. Head Start graduates are more likely to graduate from high school, go to college and get jobs. Further, graduates are less likely to commit crimes and go to jail. In fact, access to Head Start provides cost savings for America that far outweigh program costs — recent estimates suggest a $1 to $8 return on public investments.

Had Mr. Mackowiak moved beyond the rhetoric and talked to Minnesota parents about Head Start’s benefits, the facts may be clearer to him. Take, for example, Ricardo Sanchez-Salinas, who is enrolled in a Minnesota Head Start program. Ricardo suffered from a visual impairment that rendered him legally blind. Because of early interventions and access to appropriate care, Ricardo has gone from being a timid and uncertain toddler to a happy, curious child who is eager to interact with his peers. Ricardo’s vision specialist recently told Ricardo’s mother that she is in awe of how well Ricardo is doing. “It’s all thanks to Head Start,” Ricardo’s mom emphasized. (The teachers at Head Start) “are Ricardo’s true angels.”

Mr. Mackowiak is correct that many families can’t afford preschool. More than 4,000 children are on Head Start waiting lists because families choose Head Start for its proven approach to school readiness. Unfortunately, Minnesota Head Start’s funding serves only 24 percent of income-eligible children.

Respectfully, Mr. Mackowiak, we are living and breathing the facts every day. What we know for a fact is that Head Start gets our most vulnerable children ready for school, and America can’t afford to wait to give every at-risk child the opportunity for preschool.

Gayle L. Kelly

Executive Director

Minnesota Head Start Association, Inc.