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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.”

President Obama’s full remarks can be read here.

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

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Politico Magazine published an article Thursday that perfectly embodies the failures of tabloid-style political journalism to address the fundamental dangers facing the country: “145 Things Donald Trump Did in His First Year as the Most Consequential Former President Ever.”

“In ways both absurd and serious, the 45th president refused to let go of the spotlight or his party and redefined what it means to be a former leader of the free world,” the article sub-headline states, sitting above a colorful image containing a photo of a smiling Trump and images that have defined his post-presidency, including his second impeachment, golf clubs, and a vaccination needle.

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