If elected president, Vice President Gore would propose a $50 billion plan to provide preschool to nearly every 4-year-old in the country by the end of his first term, aides said.
Filling in the details on a promise he made last spring, Gore said he would give states as much as $2,700 per child in federal money if the states agree to match that investment dollar for dollar. He is expected to announce the details during a televised town meeting here Wednesday, but aides provided much of the information tonight.
Although expanding preschool has become a bipartisan political issue, Gore aims to set himself apart by proposing to spend more on education than any other presidential candidate. In recent days, he has ridiculed Democrat Bill Bradley for "nibbling around the edges" rather than developing a comprehensive national education proposal, and he says Republican Gov. George W. Bush's idea, an expanded Head Start program, is not sufficient.
Overall, Gore wants to increase federal education spending by $115 billion over 10 years, with $50 billion of that to be dedicated to schooling for 3- and 4-year-olds.
Modeled after a preschool-for-all program in Georgia, Gore's package would be entirely voluntary, Gore policy adviser Jonathan Schnur said last night. But the vice president expects up to 75 percent of the nation's youngsters--or 3 million 4-year-olds--to sign up for preschool by 2005.
"While not all parents would choose to participate, under the Gore plan no four-year-old would go without preschool because of low family income," according to a campaign news release.
It is likely that some parents would choose to educate their children at home, in private schools or at religious institutions. Under Gore's plan, church-affiliated schools could participate in the subsidized preschool program as long as their curriculum is secular, Schnur said.
After five years of development and marketing, Georgia now pays about $3,800 per child for about 65,000 youngsters, Schnur said. Preschool costs vary widely: In California, the average annual price is $4,400; in New Jersey, it is $7,000. Gore would set aside $5,400 per child--half from the federal government.
States would be given wide latitude in developing a curriculum, selecting preschool providers and determining whether to use federal money to target lower-income children. If states find ways to send 4-year-olds to school for less than $5,400, the extra money could be spent on educating 3-year-olds, improving school safety and expanding teacher training.
A state could also choose not to participate, although Schnur said that seems unlikely given the eagerness of states to provide early education. According to a study by the Children's Defense Fund, states spend about $2 billion on preschool.