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Intense Debate Continues On Federal Role in Preschool

Watching the federal government mired in partisan squabbling over sequestration doesn't give one much hope that Congress and the president can find common ground on a major expansion of federally-funded preschool, but that hasn't stopped people from talking about the prospect.

The New York Times posted a round-table discussion that poses the question, "Is Public Preschool a Smart Investment?" featuring some of the top scholars in the field (including James J. Heckman, whom I interviewed a few days ago). The views of the experts generally seem to favor some type of early education, though opinions differ on which children should get first dibs at free preschool and how such programs should be funded.

The Wall Street Journal's editorial board, on the other hand, says that a universal preschool program would be a waste of taxpayer money. The essay took specific aim at Georgia's universal preschool program, saying that it has little effect because the state's academic performance trails the national average and that its dropout rate is high. The president visited a preschool program in Georgia two days after his State of the Union address.

Whiteboard Advisors, a Washington consulting firm, meanwhile, polled its education insiders who believe that a major federal expansion in preschool isn't going to happen. But for my money, while the debate is fascinating, I'm more interested in what's going on at the state level. Last week, I interviewed state officials on both sides of the political aisle, and other than their opinions on the White House proposal, you would have been hard-pressed to tell the difference between them when they talked about the worth of early-childhood education. After the article goes live on the Education Week website tomorrow, I'll be sharing more about what I learned.

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