Many sources forecasted that President Obama would make a commitment to early childhood education last night and he delivered. Here’s what he said:
“…we [need to] equip our citizens with the skills and training to fill those [good] jobs.
And that has to start at the earliest possible age. Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road. But today, fewer than 3 in 10 four year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for a private preschool. And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives. So tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America. That’s something we should be able to do.
Every dollar we invest in high-quality early childhood education can save more than seven dollars later on — by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime. In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own. We know this works. So let’s do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance.
What does the mean? A few days ago we told you about the Center for American Progress report calling for just this kind of early childhood commitment. The Center is closely aligned with the President’s thinking so it’s useful to look at what they proposed:
Under CAP’s plan the federal government would, on average, match state preschool expenditures up to $10,000 per child per year. This amount is enough to provide high-quality full-day (nine-hour) prekindergarten to families who want it, while also enabling families to choose shorter-day alternatives.
The total nationwide cost of this program would be evenly split between the federal government and the states. The U.S. Department of Education, however, would provide federal grants to state education agencies based on a matching formula that considers district concentration of poverty, state fiscal effort, and the cost of providing education. States would be required to contribute their own funding to receive the federal match. The estimated 10-year federal cost is $98.4 billion over existing spending levels. Our plan phases in over five years—first enrolling low-income children and expanding to full coverage by the end of the fifth year. Once the program is fully scaled, it will cost an additional $12.3 billion per year.
All children ages 3 and 4 should be able to voluntarily attend a full-day public preschool program. Preschool should be free for children from families at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line ($46,100 for a family of four). Children from families above 200 percent of the poverty line should be charged a sliding tuition co-pay, ranging from about 30 percent of the cost to 95 percent of the cost (for families above 400 percent of the poverty line).
Eligible providers should include local education agencies (school districts, charter schools), Head Start programs, child care agencies, and community-based providers of prekindergarten programs in partnership with local education agencies.
This new Obama initiative could be especially valuable to New Hampshire, one of the few states without public pre-K. Are we going to be ready to take advantage of it?