Duncan Takes Push for Expanded Preschool to House Committee

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan took his case for $75 billion to expand pre-kindergarten to the House Education and Workforce Committee on Tuesday. Duncan called the plan to make preschool available to more four-year-old children, "the smartest use of our education dollars.”

Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the committee chair, told Duncan he was concerned about starting a new program while other federal education programs, like the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, remained under-funded. Citing support for expanded pre-k from Republican governors, Duncan told the committee the expansion of early education programs has bipartisan support.

Preschool for All would create a new Federal-State partnership to enable states to provide universal high-quality preschool for 4-year olds from low- and moderate-income families, up to 200 percent of the poverty line.

In his statement, Duncan denied the proposal is a new federal entitlement program. “States would use Federal funds to create or expand high-quality preschool programs in partnership with local school-based and community providers,” he said. “States would provide an increasing match for the program, and every cent of the $75 billion provided by the Federal Government over the next 10 years would be paid for by increases in tax.”

Under the President’s plan, states would be required to meet quality benchmarks linked to better outcomes for children—like having high-quality state-level standards for early learning, qualified and well-compensated teachers in all preschool classrooms, and a plan to implement comprehensive assessment and data systems.

Fewer than 3 in 10 4-year-olds today are enrolled in high-quality preschool programs. Duncan said the United States ranks 28th among industrialized nations in the enrollment of 4-year-olds in early learning, and among 29 industrialized nations, only five devote less public spending to early learning as a percentage of GDP.

The other topics brought up during Duncan’s testimony included Pell grants, funding for STEM teachers, implementing the Common Core and rewriting and passing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.