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Universal Prekindergarten on Hillary Clinton's Wish List

Crossposted from Politics K-12

By Alyson Klein

Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton made her first high-profile education policy pitch Monday: universal preschool.

Specifically, Clinton wants to give every 4-year-old in America access to high-quality preschool over the next decade.

It's clear that Clinton, the former secretary of state and U.S. Senator, thinks she has a winning issue here. After all, there's been a lot of bipartisan interest in early education at the state level. But congressional Republicans, some of whom are seeking the GOP nomination, have been reluctant to invest big federal money in the policy, in part because of concerns over runaway federal spending.

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"Republicans aren't just missing the boat on early-childhood education, they're trying to sink it," Clinton said Monday in Rochester, N.H., where she officially unveiled her plan, according to published reports.

So what's the nitty-gritty on this preschool plan, and how is Clinton proposing to pay for it? 

There weren't a lot of hard-and-fast-details in a fact sheet circulated by the Clinton camp.

The Clinton campaign said only the proposal would "build on" President Barack Obama's efforts to bolster access to high-quality preschool.

Obama's plan, which would help states offer such programs to more low- and moderate-income 4-year-olds, carries a high pricetag—$75 billion over the next 10 years. Obama tied his own preschool expansion to a tax increase on tobacco, which went over like a lead balloon in Congress.

Clinton didn't put an overall dollar figure on her expansion. Back in the 2008 season, though, she pitched $10 billion a year for early education.

And Clinton wants to invest in child care, too, including for children ages birth to 3. She's more specific about the funding here, She says she wants to "double" the nation's investments in Early Head Start and Head Start. Head Start is funded right now at about $8.6 billion, so that proposal would bring the program to about $17 billion, making it bigger than the biggest K-12 grant, Title I for disadvantaged students. The Head Start program has some fans on the GOP side of the aisle of the aisle who have been willing to increase its funding, but plenty of Republicans also disparage the program as ineffective.

Another key question: Clinton said she'd like to use the money to develop "high quality" early-childhood programs, but it's unclear what exactly she means by "quality" here. The Obama administration's proposal called for states to take steps like linking preschool and K-12 data, measuring program outcomes, and beefing up teacher training. Is Clinton asking for the same kind of movement in her proposal?

What's more, the announcement isn't exactly a big surprise. The plan, or something like it, has been on Clinton's wish list for years. She called for a major expansion of early-childhood education back in the 2008 primary season, the first time she ran for president. And, as a senator back in 2007, she introduced a bill that would have started a broad-based early-childhood education program. Plus, she has a record on the issue going back to her work for the Children's Defense Fund as a law student and later as first lady of Arkansas.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton meets with a group of preschoolers during a campaign stop on June 15 in Rochester, N.H.

—Jim Cole/AP


Related stories:

 for the latest news on policies, practices, and trends in early childhood education. 

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