February 14, 2013

President Obama went to Georgia to push his State of the Union proposal to work with the states “to make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America.” He cited a statistic from the National Institute for Early Education Research that “fewer than three in 10” 4-year-olds are enrolled in this vital early education program. Just how vital was summed up in three charts from the White House.

(The White House)
(The White House)

One of them I showed you yesterday. At-risk children who don’t go to preschool are 25 percent more likely to drop out of school, 60 percent more likely not to attend college and 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime. As one Alabama business leader said in a New York Times story today, “The evidence is, if we don’t make this investment and we don’t make it wisely, we’re going to pay for it later.”

(The White House)
(The White House)

That pre-kindergarten education is the gateway to a better life for poor, working-class children is highlighted in a chart that was used to highlight the importance of a college degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual income for people 25 and older with a college degree or higher is $60,004. Those without a high school diploma make considerably less, $23,532 annually.

 

(The White House)
(The White House)

Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia have preschool programs. The president is right to push to expand them nationwide. The plan unveiled today calls for a federal-state partnership to do so. And it calls for an expansion of Early Head Start to reach children ages 0 to 3. Folks will balk at the expense. They’ll push back against what they see as the expansive, meddling hand of government. But all of this is an investment in the future of this country and striving generations to come.

As a statistic from the Pew Charitable Trust shows, “42 percent of American children who are born to the parents on the bottom rungs of the income ladder will stay there.” Access to high-quality education at the earliest ages would allow children to break that cycle. What the president proposes would help them do it.

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Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.