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Obama's Inauguration Will Usher In Push for Universal Preschool

February 2, 2009
The Education Report
The $10 billion that President-elect Barack Obama plans to spend on preschool will represent the largest new federal increase in early education since 1965, when Congress created the Head Start program. Even Head Start, which enrolls 100,000 young children annually, costs only $7 billion a year. All 50 state governments together spend just $3.7 billion a year on preschool.

Obama's representatives say he plans to keep his pledge of $10 billion a year despite the nation's current economic woes. "We simply cannot afford to sideline key priorities like education," said spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

"People are absolutely ecstatic" about Obama's plans for early education, Cornelia Grumman of the First Five Years Fund told the New York Times (12-17-08). "Some people seem to think the Great Society is upon us again."

While preschool proponents agree that Obama's election helps their cause, they don't always agree about exactly how the expansion of preschool should go forward. Some want the government to push programs to include more children from lower-income backgrounds, while others want public preschool available to all children of a certain age, free of charge, no matter what their families' incomes are. Some groups say that infant and toddler care should take top priority in the expansion of state-sponsored care.

A number of groups lobby for universal preschool to be extended to all four-year-olds. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the nation's second-largest teachers union, recently said they "would love to see" children "from age three on" in preschool programs. AFT president Randi Weingarten did concede that "when kids have great home situations, that is the best thing that can happen to them." (CNSNews, 12-16-08)

Obama's platform emphasized enrolling more lower-income children in daycare and extending care to infants and toddlers. The platform promised to quadruple funding for Early Head Start, the Clinton era program that serves pregnant women and children from birth to age three. Obama also plans to expand home visitation programs for low-income mothers, an idea that sends chills down the spines of conservatives who want to preserve the integrity and privacy of the family from government intrusion.

A front-page New York Times article on Obama's plans for early education (12-17-08) lamented what it called the "fragmented," "underfinanced," and "bewildering" current state of early childcare in America. Libby Dogget, executive director of Pre-K Now, a group pushing for universal public preschool, derided the diversity of preschool situations that currently serve young children. "It's a patchwork quilt, a tossed salad, a nonsystem," she said.
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