Obama makes public push to expand quality pre-K

President Obama made a public push for greatly expanded access to high-quality early education programs Thursday, touting the benefits of quality pre-K programs for 4-year-olds. “This is not babysitting. This is teaching,” Obama said in a speech to educators and parents in Decatur. The President expounded on a plan for ramping up early education which he included in Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

The President’s proposal will improve quality and expand access to preschool, through a cost sharing partnership with all 50 states, to extend federal funds to expand high-quality public preschool to reach all low- and moderate-income 4-year olds from families at or below 200 percent of poverty.

Obama said Tuesday night that he wants the federal government to work with states to make pre-kindergarten available to every child in America. Currently, fewer than 30 percent of the nation’s four-year-olds are enrolled in high-quality preschool. His proposal would include incentives and support for states to expand early-education programs. Explaining how pre-school provides an opportunity to bridge the achievement gap affecting low-income children, Obama said every dollar invested in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars in the future by increasing graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy and violent crime.

Skeptics of the President’s plan have pointed out the unknown cost of its implementation. Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), who chairs the House Education Committee, was quoted in one news report following the State of the Union, saying, "Before we spend more taxpayer dollars on new programs, we must first review what is and is not working in existing initiatives, such as Head Start. Too many questions remain unanswered."

“If you’re looking for a big bang for your education buck, this is it,” Obama re-iterated in Thursday's speech. 

Prior to his speech, Obama visited the College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center in Decatur, and remarked about the skills four-year-olds learn that prepare them for kindergarten: letters, numbers, shapes and playing well with others. On the latter point, Obama quipped, “Playing well with others is a task we could use in Washington. Every now and then we should have some quiet time. A time out,” he joked.