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One More Step Forward on President Obama’s Early Education Proposal

Yesterday, as President Obama visited an early learning center in Decatur, Georgia, the White House released a fact sheet with more details about the early education proposal the President announced in his State of the Union address. Under the President’s comprehensive plan, the federal government and states would work together to increase access high-quality early learning opportunities for children from birth to age five through expansion of voluntary home visiting programs, prekindergarten, Early Head Start, child care, and full-day kindergarten.

The President proposes to provide funding to states to help them make prekindergarten available to all four-year-olds in families with incomes below 200 percent of poverty ($39,060 a year for a family of three). The federal government would offer incentives for states to provide prekindergarten to middle-income families as well. Prekindergarten programs would have to meet a set of quality standards, including having qualified teachers paid comparably to K-12 teachers, small class sizes and low child-teacher ratios, and comprehensive health and other support services. The programs could be provided in a range of settings, from schools to child care centers to other community-based programs, as is currently the case for many state-funded prekindergarten programs.

States could use the funds available under this prekindergarten proposal to expand full-day kindergarten once they had made prekindergarten available to low- and moderate-income four-year-olds.

In addition, the President—recognizing the importance of the earliest years—proposes the creation of an Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership program that would support comprehensive services to children from birth through age three. Early Head Start and child care providers meeting high-quality standards would receive funding on a competitive basis. The providers would have to offer full-day services in order to meet the needs of working parents, who often struggle to find the affordable child care they need to get and stay employed. The President, in his remarks yesterday, said he understood these struggles, recalling his and his wife’s experiences trying to find child care when their children were young.

The President’s plan also includes expansion of the existing home visiting program, through which nurses, social workers, and other professionals meet with at-risk families in their homes (on a voluntary basis) and help them access resources and supports for their young children.

After his visit to a classroom at the early learning center—where he had a first-hand experience in interactive learning—the President joked that Washington could take some lessons from the teachers there, including on how to play well with others. Let’s hope that policy makers across the spectrum in Washington and the states figure out a way to play well together as they embark on the very important task of building a strong early learning system for children and families.

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