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

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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.”

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.

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