Item 1 on Obama's To-Do List: Expand Pre-K Programs?
For all the talk of how the already overdue reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act will present a major test for President-elect Obama and the newly beefed-up Democratic majority in Congress, some in Washington are betting that the first education item on their to-do list will be expanding pre-K programs.
Candidate Obama outlined a major "zero-to-five" initiative that included such things as visiting nurse services for at-risk pregnant mothers to grants to states to improve pre-kindergarten programs. The proposal took up a lot more ink in his education plan than his ideas for NCLB did.
Obama also advocated spending $10 billion more a year on pre-K, more than half of the $18 billion he proposed for additional federal spending on precollegiate education. Even though that's a hefty price tag in lean budget times, it might be an easier sell on Capitol Hill than the reauthorization of NCLB, which is going to be politically tricky, no matter which way you slice it.
I spoke today with Vic Klatt, a lobbyist and off-and-on Republican committee staffer. He noted that Obama talked a lot about pre-k legislation in the campaign.
“It’s relatively easy, relatively bipartisan," Klatt said. "If I were in their shoes, I’d lead with something like that.”
He said even get-rid-of-the-Department-of-Education Republicans in Congress have a hard time voting against preschool programs.
And, at least in my view, bolstering pre-K would win the new administration some good will with folks in the bolder, broader coalition who say that schools need extra supports, including better early childhood education, if student achievement is really going to improve. That might help the new administration and Congress sell some accountability provisions later on down on the line.
What does your crystal ball say? Is pre-K a good place to start? Or should Congress tackle NCLB first?