Friday, May 21, 2010

The indestructible Head Start is rife with enrollment fraud

The evidence is that it does no permanent good but parents using it apparently like the childminding. Audio clips now reveal how children are fraudulently made 'eligible'. After 45 years, will this finally kill off the useless and expensive monster?

An undercover investigation into the federal government's Head Start program has found enough enrollment abuses to generate a report to President Obama and a major damage-control effort by the agency that runs the program.

At a hearing Tuesday, members of the House Education and Labor Committee heard dramatic audio clips of fraud being taken by Government Accountability Office (GAO) agents. In one clip, a New Jersey Head Start worker handed back a $23,000 pay stub to two agents who were pretending to enroll their children in the preschool program.

"Now you see it, now you don't," the Head Start worker said. The worker's decision to ignore the $23,000 in income meant that the agents' fictitious children, who otherwise would not have counted as "poor" under government rules, were enrolled in the program, possibly to the detriment of needy children who would have been put on a waiting list.

Fraudulent enrollment is "a blatant violation of Head Start's rules. … Our administration will not stand for it," Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a letter Monday to Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, California Democrat. Mr. Obama "has been briefed on GAO's investigation," she noted in her letter.

In testimony presented to the House panel Tuesday, GAO special investigations official Gregory D. Kutz said that in at least eight cases, Head Start employees "manipulated" information to admit ineligible children.

Enrollment rules were so lax, he warned, that Head Start workers could easily "doctor" enrollment applications, and families could enter the program with "bogus" documents created at home.

Out of 15 visits, there was no evidence of enrollment fraud in seven places, including two in Washington, D.C., and one in Maryland, Mr. Kutz said in his testimony.

But in Wisconsin, one Head Start worker looked at the incomes of two agents posing as a grandpa and a grandma, and "picked" one of the incomes to report. "Who won … Grandma or me?" the agent asked on the audiotape. "Grandma … because she had the lower income," the worker said, laughing.

Other abuses included admitting a family who lived outside the Head Start service area, ignoring proof of employment, and admitting extraordinarily high numbers of "homeless" children. Under new rules, homeless children are automatically eligible for Head Start.

The audio clips are available at the GAO web site,, listed under "reports and testimonies" for May 18.

The GAO also found two Head Start families who reported incomes "in excess of $110,000," and that 63 children were counted more than once to make centers appear fully enrolled.

This kind of behavior is "reprehensible and completely unacceptable," Mr. Miller said.

Carmen R. Nazario, HHS assistant secretary for the administration for children and families, told the committee that HHS would take swift action against misbehaving grantees, and was already in the process of upgrading integrity standards, reminding grantees of Head Start rules, and conducting unannounced visits to centers.

The National Head Start Association (NHSA), the trade group for grantees, said it was not privy to the details of the GAO investigation but would "do all we can" to help programs that are out of compliance.

Mr. Kutz said a complete GAO report on Head Start abuses will be issued in July.

Head Start, created 45 years ago as a "war on poverty" program, receives $7 billion a year. Last year, it received an extra $2 billion under the stimulus bill, and the Obama administration has requested another $1 billion for it for 2011.

Head Start's main purpose is to narrow the school-readiness gap by giving poor preschoolers free educational, medical, nutritional and social services. Early studies have showed that Head Start services pay off when the children start school.

But in January, a massive, 10-year study found that by the time Head Start children finish first grade, they score no better than non-Head Start children on most of 112 measures.

Head Start proponents have tried to downplay the devastating results, but the program's critics say they have heard enough happy talk about Head Start.

Mr. Obama has said he is willing to eliminate government programs "shown to be wasteful or ineffective," Heritage Foundation analysts David Muhlhausen and Dan Lips said after the Head Start Impact Study results were released. "Given that scientifically rigorous research demonstrates that Head Start is ineffective, Head Start is an ideal candidate for the budget chopping block," they said.


Slow Learners at the Ninth Circuit

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is a stimulus package for the Supreme Court, which would rather not have one. The 9th Circuit, often in error but never in doubt, provides the Supreme Court with steady work: Over the last half-century, the 9th has been reversed almost 11 times per Supreme Court term, more than any other circuit court. This week, the Supreme Court should spank it again and ask: Is it too much to ask that you pay some attention to our precedents?

On Thursday at 9:30 a.m., the justices are expected to meet to decide whether to dignify the 9th's latest misadventure -- an impertinence, actually -- with a full hearing, including additional briefing and oral arguments, or whether to summarily reverse it. They should do the latter by 9:35 a.m.

The case concerns an Arizona school choice program that has been serving low- and middle-income families for 13 years. The state grants a tax credit to individuals who donate to nonprofit entities that award scholarships for children to attend private schools -- including religious schools. Yes, here we go again.

The question -- if a question that has been redundantly answered remains a real question -- is whether this violates the First Amendment proscription of any measure amounting to government "establishment of religion." The incorrigible 9th Circuit has declared Arizona's program unconstitutional, even though there is no government involvement in any parent's decision to use a scholarship at a religious school.

Surely this question was settled eight years ago in a decision that was the seventh consecutive defeat for the disgustingly determined people who are implacably opposed to any policies that enable parents who are not affluent to exercise the right of school choice that is routinely exercised by more fortunate Americans. It sometimes takes time for news of the outside world to penetrate San Francisco, where the 9th Circuit is headquartered, but surely by now that court has heard that in 2002, in a case coming from Cleveland, the Supreme Court upheld a program quite like Arizona's, but arguably more problematic.

It was created after Cleveland's school district flunked 27 -- out of 27 -- standards measuring student performance, and the state declared the district an "academic emergency." The program empowered parents to redeem publicly funded vouchers at religious as well as nonreligious private schools.

In an opinion written by Chief Justice Rehnquist and joined by Justices O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas, the court held that Cleveland's program has the "valid secular purpose" of helping children who are trapped in the failing schools for which Cleveland is responsible. The court also held that the program satisfied the court's previously enunciated standard of "true private choice" because government aid goes directly to parents, who use it at their unfettered discretion.

So, Rehnquist wrote, public money "reaches religious schools only as a result of the genuine and independent choices of private individuals." Therefore any "advancement of a religious mission" is merely "incidental" and confers "no imprimatur of state approval ... on any particular religion, or on religion generally." These standards had been developed in various prior cases.

The Supreme Court has been splitting and re-splitting constitutional hairs about this for decades, holding, for example, that it is constitutional for public funds to provide parochial school pupils with transportation to classes -- but not to field trips. To provide parochial schools with nurses, but not guidance counselors. To provide religious schools with books -- but not maps. This last split hair caused the late Sen. Pat Moynihan to wonder: What about atlases, which are books of maps?

The court has ruled that public funds can provide a sign language interpreter to a deaf child at a religious school and can provide rehabilitation assistance at a religious college. The court has held that a state can offer tax deductions to parents paying tuition to religious schools. Can the 9th Circuit see a pattern here?

Scores of thousands of children have benefited from Arizona's scholarship program, which, unlike Cleveland's, does not involve any government funds that might otherwise go to public schools. Rather, Arizona's program infuses substantial additional funds into the state's K through 12 educational offerings.

Democracy demands patience. In its political discourse, repetition is required because persuasion takes time. But the Supreme Court should not have to cajole lower courts into acknowledging its rulings. So far this term, the court has issued 11 summary reversals. Thursday morning it should use its 12th on the 9th Circuit, a slow learner.


More church-run schools for England

More faith schools will be opened under a sweeping reform of the education system in England, the coalition government has said. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats said the new administration would allow religious organisations to run a new wave of primary and secondary schools funded at taxpayers' expense.

England already has 7,000 faith schools, the vast majority of which are Anglican and Roman Catholic.

Any expansion would be likely to lead to a growth in Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh schools as religious leaders push for other faiths to be more fairly represented in the state system.

David Cameron, who sends his daughter to a sought-after Church of England primary in west London, said he was a “strong supporter personally and politically” of faith schools.

But in a move seen as a concession to the Lib Dems, the coalition’s new policy blueprint says that these new schools would be expected to run “inclusive” admissions policies.

It is likely to lead to a tightening up of rules allowing schools to select pupils along religious lines, although the details are yet to be finalised.

The Lib Dems have previously called for faith schools to admit more pupils from families that refuse to support their religious ethos, as well as an end to rules that allow them to opt out of equalities legislation.

In an interview this year, Mr Cameron said: “I think that faith schools are a really important part of our education system and they often have a culture and ethos which helps to drive up standards. If anything, I would like to see faith schools grow.”

A document published on Thursday – outlining the principles of the coalition’s legislative programme – confirmed plans to allow new providers to open new schools funded by the taxpayer.

In a controversial move, any parents’ group, company, charity or teachers’ organisation will be able to run their own “free school“ to meet local demand.

It is understood that more religious groups will be encouraged to run more schools under this system. Faith schools currently make up a third of all state schools in England.

The coalition agreement also said schools would have more flexibility to alter the curriculum and run their own qualifications. It would give schools the power to offer courses such the International GCSE, which is currently banned in the state sector, despite being favoured in private schools.

The document also outlines plans to:

* Provide a “pupil premium” – extra money for schools educating children from the poorest backgrounds – funded by cuts from outside the schools’ budget

* Review Sats tests for primary school pupils

* Allow schools to pay higher salaries to good teachers, reforming the existing “rigid” national pay rules

* Introduce incentives to attract top science and mathematics graduates into teaching

* Create a new wave of technical schools that allow 14- to 19-year-olds to learn a trade alongside the basics of English, maths and science.

In the universities and skills sectors, the coalition pledged to abolish many of the quangos running further education. Extra money will be used to create more apprenticeships, internships and college places.

The government also said it would await the outcome of an independent review into tuition fees led by Lord Browne, the former head of BP.

The Lib Dems – which oppose a rise in fees – will be allowed to abstain from any Commons vote on the issue.


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