President Barack Obama visited a preschool in Decatur, Georgia on Thursday to push for the early-childhood education reforms that he introduced during his State of the Union address.
Speaking before a group of about 65 teachers, Obama insisted that “study after study shows the achievement gap starts off very young,” so “education has to start at the earliest possible age.” To that end, he proposed making high-quality preschool available to every child in America.
“Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on,” Obama said, citing a study on Oklahoma’s universal pre-kindergarten program. “In states like Georgia that have made it a priority to educate our youngest children, states like Oklahoma, students don’t just show up in kindergarten and first grade more prepared to learn, they’re also more likely to grow up reading and doing math at grade level, graduating from high school, holding a job, even forming more stable families.”
“This works,” Obama added. “If you are looking for a good bang for your educational buck, this is it right here.”
Obama concluded his speech by saying his proposal is about “giving our kids the best possible shot at life; equipping them with the skills, education that a 21st-century economy demands; giving them every chance to go as far as their hard work and God-given potential will take them.”
Earlier Thursday morning, the Obama administration released its full plan for early-childhood education. The plan includes a state-federal partnership to guarantee pre-K to all 4-year-olds in families at or below 200 percent of the poverty level, and expansions to the Early Head Start program and Nurse Family Partnerships, among other iniatitves. Obama declined to put a price tag on his proposal during the speech, although he promised during the State of the Union that it wouldn’t add “a single dime” to the deficit.
Obama’s plan has won praise from education advocates such as Kris Perry, executive director of the First Five Years Fund. “Today President Obama has fully embraced the importance of early childhood development, putting forward a plan that supports the effective development of disadvantaged children from birth to age five — and will move America forward for generations to come,” Perry said in a statement. “Acknowledging the ironclad links between early childhood development and economic development will go down in history as the turning point for building a stronger America through better education, health, and economic outcomes that sustain generations to come.”
The plan faces an uncertain legislative future, however. Although Republicans such as Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin and Georgia governor Nathan Deal have supported expanding early-childhood education, congressional Republicans are more hesitant. As House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) told the Wall Street Journal, “before we spend more taxpayer dollars on new programs, we must first review what is and is not working in existing initiatives.”