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Obama’s new push for preschool for at-risk children

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Although various education issues have spawned controversy, there is already substantial consensus among education and childhood-development experts about certain aspects of early-childhood education. Many agree that those early years are crucial to students' eventual educational trajectory. They also say that certain elements – such as high-quality staff and low teacher-child ratios – are needed for a successful program.

But not everyone agrees with the Obama administration's approach. Adding $1 billion a year to early-education spending would be a lot of money – and doesn't make sense given the track record of current programs, says Dan Lips, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. He counts 69 existing federal programs for preschool and child care that total about $25 billion a year. "It would be misguided to move forward with a new federal preschool program before reforming and improving the existing ones," he says.

Other early-learning advocates want a push toward universal pre-K programs, rather than those focused on just the neediest children. But most say that a targeted approach like the Obama administration's is a reasonable way to start.

At the state level, early-childhood education has seen something of a heyday in recent years, as many states have increased spending.

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