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.”
Although attempts to boost funding for early-childhood development aren’t new for this administration, it is a new approach to put the issue front and center under the authority of the Education Department, and to propose offsetting revenue, education analysts say.
“Trying to push for this new investment in pre-K programs, and [the] tax on cigarettes – that’s where the president is going to spend any education capital in the coming year,” says Michael Petrilli, an education expert at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington. But responses so far from House Republicans to the preschool program, which Obama first proposed in the State of the Union address, indicate “it will continue to be a very tough sell,” he adds.
“This will ruffle some feathers in the tobacco industry ... but it gives members of Congress something to debate – whether this is a viable funding vehicle for the expansion of pre-K,” says David DeSchryver, co-director Whiteboard Advisors, a policy consulting firm in Washington.
Pre-K advocacy groups are doing their part to “sell” the president’s proposal – their best chance in years to get considerable dollars instead of just supportive rhetoric.
“This solution comes at the right time ... [and] business and education leaders, researchers, advocates and policymakers on both sides of the aisle are pointing to early childhood education as a bargain investment whose costs are easily offset by short- and long-term economic and societal benefits,” said Kris Perry, executive director of the First Five Years Fund, in a statement Wednesday.