Lawmaker Buy-In Hard to Come By for Federal Preschool Expansion
Bobby Cagle, the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, said in a web-based press conference today that the price tag of the Obama administration's $75 billion proposal to expand the federal investment in state preschool programs will make it difficult for some lawmakers to back it.
"We are supportive of the thinking behind the early learning initiative," said Cagle, whose state has a lottery-funded universal preschool program for 4-year-olds. "For our governor"—Republican Nathan Deal—"it is a real challenge to begin talking about a new tax. From what we're hearing from members of Congress, the real challenge is going to be the financing and where the money's going to come from."
It seems not much has changed since I spoke to lawmakers in February about federal investment in state preschool. At that time, many states were launching or expanding their own programs, but Republican legislators were cool to the notion of a potentially cumbersome program.
Another challenge for states will be maintaining high quality programs while expanding preschool access, Cagle said. The administration has proposed $750 million in Preschool Development Grants for FY 2014 that would help states meet quality standards for preschool. Last week, the Senate Appropriations committee approved legislation that includes the $750 million in new money, plus a $1.6 billion boost for Head Start.
Cagle, as well as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Laura Bornfreund, a senior policy analyst for the New America Foundation's Early Education Initiative, were guests on a webinar today sponsored by the Education Writers Association. Duncan used the opportunity to repeat his message that preschool spending is an investment in the nation's future. Asked if there was any element of the proposal that the administration could implement without Congressional approval of the whole $75 billion package, Duncan said that he plans to push for full support.
"This isn't a place where we want to play small ball and just help a few children," he said.
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