Under the plan, the federal government would offer grants to states that choose to enroll 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families. The plan calls for the federal share to gradually diminish from 91 percent initially to 25 percent after 10 years. In addition to preschool, Obama is seeking $15 billion for education programs for babies and toddlers.
Advocates for early childhood education are organizing a national campaign led by the First Five Years Fund, which supports early childhood education programs for low-income children, and the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank associated with the Obama administration. They have hired Jim Messina, the manager of Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, to help devise a strategy and have created a “war room” in an office building on Capitol Hill.
“It’s one of the only social programs that’s come up in a really long time where there doesn’t seem to be vehement opposition,” said Kris Perry, the executive director of the First Five Years Fund. “Other big questions about health care, gun safety — when they’re introduced, there’s a lot of controversy. What’s nice about early childhood education is there are a lot of Republican governors who do support it. That gives us a chance to create bipartisan support.”
Georgia, one of the first states to fund preschool, pays for it with lottery proceeds. But there’s not enough to meet demand; 8,000 children are on a waiting list.
Deal said that, instead of raising taxes, he’d like Congress to take some of the money used for Head Start, the federally run early childhood program for poor children, and give it to states to pay for preschool. “We could do a better job of it because, frankly, our program is better,” Deal said.
While Duncan told Deal that he was open to creative ways to fund preschool expansion, he said that reprogramming existing funds won’t make enough difference.
“I’m talking about a massive influx of resources,” Duncan said at the event. “This isn’t about making changes on the margin. I’m not interested in symbolic victories. Our goal is to dramatically expand access.”
As part of his travels, Duncan went last month to the birthplace of the modern preschool movement, the Perry Child Development Center in Ypsilanti, Mich. In a widely cited ongoing study, researchers have been tracking a class of poor African Americans who attended the preschool in 1962. The study has found that, compared to peers who didn’t attend preschool, the Perry children have grown up to lead more stable and productive lives.
Gov. Rick Snyder (R), who has invested heavily in preschool in his state, was Duncan’s tour guide in Ypsilanti. He called the secretary “a great guy. He’s done a wonderful job.” Duncan referred to Snyder as “fantastic.”