For weeks, the Obama administration has dropped hints that it plans to make early-childhood education a top priority in its second-term agenda. During the State of the Union Address set for Tuesday, we'll probably learn more about what that will mean, but progressive Center for American Progress has released its own wish list ahead of the speech: universal preschool for all, within five years. The organization has connections to the Obama administration; its president and chief executive officer, Neera Tanden, was a senior adviser for health reform at the Department of Health and Human Service under Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and also was the director of domestic policy for the Obama-Biden campaign.
Melissa Lazarín, one of the authors of the proposal and the center's director for education policy, said in an interview that the organization is waiting to hear what the White House wants to do in early education, but wanted to make its stance known regardless of the administration's moves. Early-childhood education is a smart investment for the future, she said.
"It's time for us to stop researching and time to start doing," Lazarín said.
The ambitious proposal calls for the federal government to match state preschool expenditures up to $10,000 per child per year. According to the center, this amount is enough to provide high-quality, full-day prekindergarten to families who want it, while also enabling families to choose shorter-day alternatives. The price tag over 10 years would be $98.4 billion.
The center is also proposing increased access to affordable, high-quality child care for infants and toddlers, by offering states more money through the Child Care and Development Fund. The 10-year cost of that expansion would be $84.2 billion, the center estimates.
The center also says that states receiving funds need to create a quality rating and improvement system for federally funded child care programs, and that the federal government should double its investment in Early Head Start, adding about $11.5 billion in federal spending over 10 years.
Early-childhood education is also an issue that appears to cut across partisan boundaries: governors in more than a dozen states have proposed some sort of increase in investment in early childhood. (I've outlined a few of those proposals.)
At the same time that the Center for American Progress is advocating for a huge increase in federal investment in early childhood education, naysayers are pointing to the "fade out" of positive effects of the $8 billion Head Start program as a reason for the government to get out of the early childhood education business. But Lazarín sees an opportunity to create a streamlined continuum from infancy to college or careers.
"It's a significant investment, but we really think this is one of the smartest investments we can make," Lazarín said.
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