broken playgroundWarning: What you're about to read will most likely make you angry, sick, and depressed. Particularly if you find the thought of economically disadvantaged preschoolers being stuck with broken playground equipment and teachers who may or may not be criminals disturbing.

Oh, it gets even better! Rickety swings are nothing compared to some of the safety violations found at Head Start centers across the country. Among the horrifying circumstances revealed by a recent report from the Health and Human Services Department: Broken gates leading out to parking lots and streets, toxic chemicals stored where little ones can easily get them -- even items as ridiculously dangerous as a machete and a gas-powered hedge trimmer being left out in the playground area.

Did I mention your taxpayer dollars pay for this stellar early childhood education program?

Or they're supposed to pay for it, anyway. But either the government's budget for Head Start is too small (whoa, stop yelling! I didn't say that's what I think personally! I'm just making a point!) or the estimated $7 billion per year that's theoretically being funneled into the future of our youth is going somewhere else entirely.

I don't know what goes on behind closed Congress doors. What I do know about Head Start is based on firsthand observations from my previous incarnation as a local news reporter, and it boils down to this: The government talks a good talk when it comes to public education and the creation of a level academic playing field and early intervention and community support. By the time you flip through one of those press kits filled with supportive statistics and full color photos of shiny, happy students, you're practically sold on the guarantee of a brighter tomorrow.

That changes the second you physically step inside the door of a facility like the ones cited in that report from the Health and Human Services Department.

It's essentially the same feeling you get when that luxury hotel from the brochure turns out to be a fleabag motel with a flickering neon sign. This can't be the place ... it doesn't look anything like the pictures ...

This disappointing reality extends beyond Head Start programs, unfortunately. Public schools in low-income areas nationwide fight many of the same battles.

I know these are complex issues and no easy solution exists. But come on ... a machete on the playground? There's simply no excuse.

Do you have any experience with the Head Start program? Positive or negative?


Image via Mirian Bruckschen/Flickr