Shumlin dodges and fudges on early ed savings

by Rob Roper

Governor Shumlin has often reminded us of his challenges as a child with reading. After what he said at a press conference at the Family Center of Washington County on Wednesday, one has to wonder if he has a similar challenge with numbers. Let’s face it, when presented with hard questions, Peter Shumlin has a tendency to, well, putting it delicately, just say stuff.

Remember when then candidate Shumlin was on Fox News back in March 2010 and told Stewart Varney that Germany got 30% of its energy from solar? The real number was actually 0.7%. I got the same feeling when the Governor said claimed, “For every dollar that we spend on [an early childhood education] center like this, to ensure every child gets a strong start, it means that we save $12 to $14 later on, because they don’t need other services offered by government.”

Pressed to back up this claim by TNR reporter, Kevin Ryan, Shumlin said, “Every reasonable study, that I have read, and I suspect that everyone at this press conference has ever read, suggests that there’s a direct correlation between early intervention, early services and those children and a bright future…. What’s the evidence that we could do better? $54,000 to send someone to prison.”

“Respectable” study is a subjective term, and notice that the governor didn’t actually name one. But, here’s one the governor and the rest of the folks at that press conference should read: the Head Start Impact Study.

This massive, national study was conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services between 2002 and 2006, then fretted over until 2010 when it was finally released. The study was, according to its executive summary, “conducted with a nationally representative sample of 84 grantee/delegate agencies and included nearly 5,000 newly entering, eligible 3- and 4-year- old children…” who were randomly assigned to either a Head Start Program or a control group.

A summary of the Head Start Impact Study by the left-leaning Brookings Institute puts it bluntly: “The study demonstrated that children’s attendance in Head Start has no demonstrable impact on their academic, socio-emotional, or health status at the end of first grade.” Brookings goes on,

That’s right. If you were a mother who lost the lottery [to get into the Head Start Program], couldn’t get your child into Head Start, and had to care for her at home, she was no worse off at the end of first grade than she would have been had she gotten into Head Start. That isn’t to say that she was well off. In the critical area of vocabulary, 3-year-olds entered the study at the 29th percentile in terms of national norms and finished first grade at the 24th percentile whether or not they attended Head Start. That is not good.

No, it’s not good. A national study of 5000 kids, in a large-scale, long-established program done by the Agency of Health & Human Services has concluded, in essence, that the $166 billion we’ve spent on this program since 1965 has been a total waste of money. It certainly hasn’t saved ($12 to $14 x $166 billion =) $2.324 trillion. Has the need for government assistance been going down since 1965? Have we been incarcerating fewer and fewer citizens? If people genuinely want to find a way to help these kids we need to be doing something different, not pouring more money into the same old failures.

So what in the heck is Peter Shumlin talking about? If these types of programs have no lasting benefits beyond first grade, they’re not going to prevent someone from committing a crime at eighteen. To make that claim and to insist that if we keep spending more money on programs that are a proven failure (and denying that the studies exist to show that these programs are a proven failure), well, that’s just saying stuff.