Two months ago in his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama pledged to dramatically expand access to high-quality preschool. Today in his fiscal year 2014 budget proposal, the president made good on this pledge by calling for a bold new $75 billion investment in preschool over 10 years. This investment would significantly shrink the preschool-access gap by helping states establish and expand high-quality programs.
The president’s budget also includes important investments to support the nation’s youngest children and working parents, including $1.4 billion in FY 2014 to expand high-quality child care for infants and toddlers and $15 billion over 10 years to expand states’ home-visiting programs for at-risk families.
Some might be skeptical of the federal government’s role in expanding preschool. But today’s budget makes clear that the president’s preschool plan is a true state-federal partnership. The president’s plan will help states grow their own preschool programs—an effort that is already well underway in many states. Thirty-nine states have already established state-funded preschool programs, and Mississippi is now poised to join their ranks.
At the state level preschool is not a partisan issue. Red states such as Oklahoma and Georgia are among the leaders in enrolling 4-year-olds in preschool, and Republican leaders in states such as Mississippi, Alabama, and Michigan are also working to invest more in preschool.
Under the president’s plan, states will be eligible to receive new federal dollars in return for investing their own dollars. And while the federal government will ensure that state programs meet high quality standards, states will continue to run their own programs. This state-federal partnership would cover all 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families at or below 200 percent of the poverty line. In addition, the new federal resources would free up state dollars to reach 3-year-olds and children from higher-income families and to provide full-day kindergarten.
We’ve known for many years that preschool can provide children with enormous lifelong benefits. But mounting evidence now shows that large-scale programs in states such as Oklahoma and Texas are highly effective. Research suggests that while low-income children and English language learners usually reap the greatest benefits from attending preschool, higher-income children receive substantial benefits as well.
Critics will argue that we cannot afford to make these new investments in the current fiscal climate. But studies show that investing in preschool will pay for itself by increasing future tax revenues and decreasing future spending obligations.
In addition, the president’s budget fully offsets the cost of his preschool plan by increasing the tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products by 94 cents. This has the added benefit of promoting a healthier population and reducing the number of kids who take up smoking.
State leaders throughout the country are working across party lines to invest in young children. Congress should follow suit.
Melissa Lazarín is the Director of Education Policy at the Center. Sasha Post is Special Advisor to CAP President and CEO Neera Tanden.