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State Of The Union Proposes Major Preschool Expansion

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President Barack Obama proposes a major initiative to expand preschool opportunities for 4-year-olds in Tuesday's State of the Union address.

The Huffington Post reported last month the White House was considering such a plan. A fact sheet circulated Tuesday by the White House as a supplement to the State of the Union outlines the proposal:

The President is proposing to work with Congress to provide all low- and moderate-income 4-year-old children with high-quality preschool, while also expanding these programs to reach hundreds of thousands of additional middle class children, while also incentivizing full-day kindergarten policies, so that all children enter kindergarten prepared for academic success.

The initiative comes after states have cut preschool budgets by an average of $700 per child over the last decade and as mounting evidence shows the importance of quality preschool in closing the achievement gap for low-income students.

Though the president's proposal is short on details, several education advocates expect it will ultimately look something like a suggestion floated in the Center for American Progress' recent report that the federal government create a new pre-kindergarten program partly paid for with state matching funds of $10,000 per student. Children in families with incomes under 200 percent of the poverty line would be eligible. That plan would also double the slots in Early Head Start programs.

"Asking people to compete when they start off the race behind -- they're not prepared for first grade," CAP President Neera Tanden told HuffPost on Tuesday. "In a time of scarce resources ... [preschool is] a smart investment."

It is unclear how the Obama administration would find the money for such a program, which the Center for American Progress estimated could cost $98.4 billion for the preschool portion and $11.5 billion for the Early Head Start expansion over 10 years. The idea might receive a warm welcome in the Senate, where it would go through the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The committee's chairman, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), expressed interest in expanding pre-K access in a hearing last week.

But as HuffPost reported in January:

The American public on the whole is not so emphatic in its support for increased preschool access. Although 40 percent of Americans do not "think that most parents of young children have access to affordable pre-kindergarten," according to a HuffPost/YouGov poll, there are 33 percent who believe they do, and 27 percent who weren't sure. Thirty-seven percent of respondents indicated they thought the feds should spend more on early childhood education, but 23 percent thought they should spend less, and 24 percent thought spending levels should remain the same.

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