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Obama budget's big education items: Preschool for All, college Race to the Top (+video)

President Obama's budget proposal gives the Education Department $71.2 billion in discretionary spending for fiscal year 2014. Preschool for All would be funded by a tax hike on cigarettes.

Obama budget: 5 big proposals
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With his budget proposal Wednesday, President Obama signaled once again that education – from early childhood all the way through college and career training – is a priority investment.

Education advocates have their chance to cheer now, but they know that many of their hopes may be dashed by a Congress that’s holding the purse strings tight.

The Department of Education would receive $71.2 billion in discretionary spending for fiscal year 2014. That’s up 4.5 percent from the 2013 funding before the “sequester” kicked in, but it doesn’t add to the deficit because of other offsets, the administration noted. Overall spending is increased by 2.5 percent in the $3.8 trillion budget.

Mr. Obama’s signature education proposal – Preschool for All – would cost $75 billion over 10 years, to be funded by a tax hike on cigarettes. The federal government would partner with states to expand high-quality preschool to all low- and moderate-income 4-year-olds (children below 200 percent of the poverty level). Some of the funding would also support younger children and encourage expansion of full-day kindergarten.

An additional $750 million is proposed for FY 2014 to help states prepare if they aren’t yet ready to expand pre-K.

Obama “understands that the stubborn opportunity gap that confronts far too many American children ... often begins before they even enter school,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a press call Wednesday. The preschool proposal, he said, “would constitute the largest expansion of educational opportunity in the 21st century ... and will also pay huge dividends down the road.”

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