No details offered on cost of Obama’s preschool plan
by Josh Lederman, Associated Press and Philip Elliott, Associated Press
February 14, 2013 11:59 PM | 2343 views | 10 10 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
President Barack Obama speaks before the crowd gathered at the Decatur Recreation Center on Thursday.<br>Staff/Samantha Shal
President Barack Obama speaks before the crowd gathered at the Decatur Recreation Center on Thursday.
Staff/Samantha Shal
DECATUR — Raising hopes among parents who want preschool for all, President Barack Obama on Thursday rolled out a plan to vastly expand government-funded early childhood while keeping the price tag a secret.

Republicans, wary of high costs and questionable outcomes, made clear they have no intention of signing a blank check.

Setting up yet another clash with Republicans over spending and the proper scope of government, Obama in his State of the Union address proposed working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every American child. Two days later, he played blocks and gave fist-bumps to kids in a preschool classroom at the College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center in Decatur, casting the plan as part of a moral imperative to give every child a shot at success.

“The size of your paycheck shouldn’t determine your child’s future,” Obama told about 600 teachers and parents at the Decatur Community Recreation Center, singling out Georgia as a model for making universal preschool a priority. “Let’s fix this. Let’s make sure none of our kids start out the race of life already a step behind.”

The White House offered the first details about Obama’s plan Thursday, describing it as a “continuum of high-quality early learning for a child, beginning at birth and continuing to age 5.” The government would fund public preschool for any 4-year-old whose family income is 200 percent or less of the federal poverty level — a more generous threshold than the current Head Start program, which generally serves kids from families below 130 percent of the poverty line. All 50 states and the federal government would chip in.

Obama also proposed letting communities and child care providers compete for grants to serve children 3 and younger, starting from birth. And once a state has established its program for 4-year-olds, it can use funds from the program to offer full-day kindergarten, the plan says.

Conspicuously absent from Obama’s plan were any details about the cost, a key concern among Republicans. Obama’s aides have insisted the new programs would not add to the nation’s nearly $16.5 trillion debt, but they won’t say what else will be cut to offset the cost, offering only vague allusions to cutting entitlement spending and closing loopholes.

In a conference call with reporters Thursday, two of Obama’s top policy aides declined five times to explain how much the program would cost.

“Details on that will be released with the president releases his budget in the coming weeks,” said Roberto Rodriguez, the White House’s top education adviser. When asked again about the costs, officials went silent before a press aide joked: “Great, we’ll take the next one.”

The price tag for expanding preschool to more than 4 million 4-year-olds is potentially staggering. For instance, the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank with close ties to the Obama administration, proposed a $10,000-a-child match to what states spend. That effort could cost tax payers almost $100 billion over 10 years.

Democrats and Republicans have already gridlocked over where to find $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade mandated by the so-called sequester; it’s difficult to imagine they could reach consensus on those cuts plus agree on further cuts to offset expanded preschool.

In fact, the sequester cuts themselves could devastate current pre-kindergarten programs, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Thursday, if Congress doesn’t find a way out by March 1, the date the cuts kick in. “Doing that to our most vulnerable children is education malpractice, economically foolish and morally indefensible,” he told senators on Capitol Hill.

Weary of proposals by Obama they say blow up the cost and reach of federal government and still licking their wounds from November’s election, Republicans are in no rush to sign off on Obama’s preschool plan or any of a number of other initiatives he pitched in his address on Tuesday.

“That whole playing well with others, by the way, is a trait we could use more in Washington,” Obama said to a mix of laughter and applause in Decatur. “Maybe we need to bring the teachers up every once in a while have some quiet time. Time out.”

A day earlier, House Speaker John Boehner said involving the federal government in early childhood education was “a good way to screw it up,” a sentiment echoed by Rep. John Kline, who chairs the House panel on education and said Obama must answer basic questions before expecting Republicans to get on board.

“Will the plan be affordable? We all want to give children a solid foundation for a bright future, but that also means we can’t saddle them with even more debt,” Klein said.

Republican lawmakers also were eager to press Obama for specifics lacking in his speech. For instance, leaders on the Hill were curious if this new expansion would be part of existing programs such as Head Start in the Health and Human Services Department, or if it would start a new program inside the Education Department. They also wanted to know if the new effort would funnel money to states or local governments, or if Washington would administer the program as part of a national pre-K program that is unrivaled in size.

Obama has said he wants to partner with states, but the mechanics of such a joint project were far from clear. White House officials did say the new pre-kindergarten plans would be set up by states and independent of Washington’s meddling with the details.

Speaking broadly about its virtues, Obama said such an initiative would shrink the achievement gap for poor and minority students and strengthen a competitive workforce that would attract companies to create jobs in the U.S.

“This works. We know it works,” Obama said. “If you are looking for a good bang for your educational buck, this is it right here.”

Republicans and conservatives have questioned the effectiveness of Head Start programs, citing studies such as a Health and Human Services Department report last year showing that, while at-risk students enrolled in the pre-kindergarten programs saw tremendous gains in vocabulary and social development, those benefits largely faded by the time students reached third grade.

Scores of other studies, however, were more favorable toward the program, which has been shown to make at-risk students more likely to complete high school and avoid criminal arrests. In pure dollars and cents, academics called it a smart investment.

Even in states like Georgia, showcased by Obama in his remarks Thursday, the results have been mixed. Georgia made a commitment to universal pre-K in 1995 and it’s been a slow climb, with about 60 percent of eligible children currently enrolled. And Georgia’s high school graduation rate is among the lowest in the nation.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
Be Careful
February 16, 2013
This is exactly what they want. An entire population dependant on government handouts to live day to day. Then they will continue to vote them into office.

And by the way, the 2 term limit for President wasn't in the original constitution. It was an amendment added after FDR had been elected 4 times in a row.

It could be changed.
February 15, 2013
Can you say indoctrination?
February 15, 2013
"In a conference call with reporters Thursday, two of Obama’s top policy aides declined five times to explain how much the program would cost."

Of course they did. They will never admit any culpability for their running our country into the ground.

NO way is Obama going to tell me how to raise my children, whether they can play football, whether they can drink a Coke or learn to shoot a gun. NO way would I blindly teach my children to sing the "ode to Obama' propaganda songs taught to young children in liberal and minority neighborhoods. No way will I teach my kids to worship one man, as though he's a God, a dictator or a savior. I will teach my children to respect the office of the president, and to be damn glad one fallable man can only be in office eight years. I will teach them that when the Founding Fathers put that in our Consitution, they didn't realize just how much damage one man could do in eight years in the Age of Information and Technology.

February 15, 2013
Great post.
Lib in Cobb
February 15, 2013
@Anonymous: You should hope that the GOP turns it's miserable reputation around before 2016. You can teach your kids what you wish, the truth about the GOP would be a good start. Tell them that the GOP attempted to keep citizens from voting in 2012,because those citizens in many instances were minorities, an effort which failed. Tell them that the GOP attempted to change how Electoral votes are counted, but failed in that effort also. Tell tthem that the last GOP president started a war based on lies, in which thousands of Americans were killed. Teach them that one of the founders of this country wrote beautiful words about "all men are created equal", but owned slaves. Tach them those things and let them make their own choice. With any luck they will see how narrow mind their father really is.
Lib in Cobb
February 14, 2013
Our president whether you voted for him or not, is looking to the future for a better education for the youth of today.

"If you think education is expensive, try ignorance".

Derek Bok

President, Harvard University


February 15, 2013
No honey, Obama is yet again, pandering to the "gimme" generation. Go ahead and have as many kids as you want and the public will pay for everything. Free pre-k, free breakfast and lunch, food stamps, and welfare. The pre-k program is half a day and then we get stuck with the bill for the childcare portion. We have many children who come into kindergarten, who have been to pre-k, that can't write their name and don't know the colors, letters, or behavior etiquette. Parent should not have children if they can't afford to take care of them!
Libb in Cobb
February 15, 2013
@Padering: Your post is contrary to every study done involvin pre-k education. Those studies were done by educators, not by people who failed to recognize the value of education, that would be you.
News flash
February 15, 2013
I am a teacher and we have children every year coming in from pre-k. What you do not understand is education begins in the home. Low income families who do not reinforce the standards taught in school have low performing children. These children do not practice their studies at home, do not do complete homework, and do not read at home. I see it every school year and it gets worse every year. It is the same for free breakfast which taxpayers supply. These children throw away half their meals every day of the week. I fully support pre-k for all children but not on taxpayer dollars. The problem with you is that you are clueless as to what teachers face every day of the week. Facts are facts and pre-k works for those whose parents value education. It doesn't work for the children whose parents use it as a free babysitting service! I work extremely hard with my students but those of you who are not in education do not have a clue! Before you judge me, I pay for snacks for my students because their parents do not send any to school and I spend over $ 1000 per year on supplies as well. I believe I am more qualified than you! I just personally feel we should not be using taxpayer dollars. The state of Georgia has not found the program to be beneficial in low econimic districts.
at lib in cobb
February 16, 2013
I would say that pandering is correct. My son went to the Pre-K and the only thing they tought was manners, how to socialize with kids their own age. they don't teach them how to read, write any of that. Education IS very valuable but Pre-K doesnt teach the kids reading, writing and arithmatics. Its more of how to get along with others so to speak. Those supposed studies you are talking about are not true they just want the money for their program. I would say pandering is probably a teacher and knows what they are talking about.
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