Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post

President Obama proposed making pre-school available to every young child in the country.

High quality early childhood education is seen by educators as especially important to help close the achievement gap between poor and privileged children, which has been demonstrated to exist in children as young as 3. 

Nearly half (45 percent) of 4-year-olds and 20 percent of 3-year-olds were enrolled in state or federally funded preschool programs in 2011, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University

Those programs cost taxpayers about $5.5 billion, an average of about $5,000 per child in 2011.

The president did not say how much it would cost to provide high-quality public preschool to every child but some estimate it would cost at least twice what taxpayers are now paying.

Well-known economists ranging from Ben Bernanke to Nobel Laureate James Heckman have argued the investments in early childhood education have had a better return than Wall Street’s average post WWII.

Georgia, Oklahoma and the District of Columbia were among the first jurisdictions to offer free, public preschool to all children.