Obama announces budget at D.C.’s Powell Elementary


Obama visited a pre-kindergarten class at Petworth’s Powell Elementary before announcing his FY 2015 budget.  (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

President Obama announced his  fiscal 2015 budget on Tuesday morning at Powell Elementary in the District’s Petworth neighborhood, highlighting the school’s early childhood education program as a model for the nation.

Obama’s $3.9 trillion proposal seeks to pump tens of billions of new dollars into education, including into expanding public preschool programs, which he has called essential to helping lift the achievement and prospects of poor children.

“We know — and this is part of the reason why we’re here today — that education has to start at the earliest possible ages,”  Obama said. “So this budget expands access to the kind of high-quality preschool and other early learning programs to give all of our children the same kinds of opportunities that those wonderful children that we just saw are getting right here at Powell.”

Obama paid a visit to a Powell classroom filled with three- and four-year olds. Offered a stool, he chose instead to sit cross-legged on the carpet with students, taking one boy into his lap as the class spelled out a sentence.

Powell’s program is part of the District’s effort to offer universal access to public prekindergarten. A dual-language school where students learn in both Spanish and English. it has undergone a rapid transformation in recent years under the leadership of Principal Janeece Docal, with enrollment nearly doubling since 2009 from 219 students to more than 400.

A few hours after Obama visited Powell, his wife stopped in at Washington Yu Ying, a Northeast D.C. charter school that also specializes in foreign-language immersion.

The first lady’s visit to Yu Ying — where students learn both English and Mandarin — came just weeks before she is scheduled to travel to China for a trip focused on the importance of education. She praised Yu Ying for giving its students the chance to explore another country and culture.

“Not a lot of kids get to do that, but it’s going to be important as you grow up and you get jobs and you start living in a world that is a very global world,” Michelle Obama said. “It’s important to know about other cultures, other traditions.”

The presidential visits were nearly derailed by weather: After closing for snow on Monday, the District’s school system opened two hours late Tuesday and was the only system in the greater D.C. region to open at all. A spokesman for Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) said President Obama’s planned visit did not influence the decision to open schools.

Emma Brown writes about D.C. education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.
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