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Obama's universal preschool proposal: Game-changer or federal overreach?

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The liberal think tank, Center for American Progress, released its own report days before the president’s speech. CAP’s plan has the federal government partnering with states to subsidize preschool based on income, matching state spending dollar-for-dollar up to $10,000 per child for full-day preschool. CAP estimates its plan would cost the federal government $98.4 billion over 10 years, assuming most of the costs would be paid for by states.

According to calculations by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), high-quality preschool education costs an average of $8,000 per child per year. This would make universal preschool for all 4-year-olds about $33 billion per year, and close to $70 billion for all 3- and 4-year-olds – not taking into account existing spending on pre-K.

Currently, about 80 percent of 4-year-olds attend preschools in the US, and about half of those attend public programs like state pre-K, federal Head Start, or special education, and the other half attend private programs, according to a 2008 State of Preschool report by NIEER. In Oklahoma, where parents have the option to send their 4-year-olds to the state-funded public pre-K, about 72 percent of families participate.

Still, the president’s proposal satisfies the demands of advocates rather than parents, says Grover Whitehurst, a director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

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