OBAMA PUSHES FOR UNIVERSAL PRESCHOOL PLAN

Associated Press

February 14, 2013

DECATUR, Ga. (AP) — 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
four-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.’’

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