President Obama has released details for his State of the Union proposal to provide high quality preschool for every child. It is a comprehensive early childhood agenda that incorporates an array of early childhood programs into a plan for improving quality and expanded access to preschool. Specifics include a federal-state partnership to provide high-quality preschool to low and moderate-income four year olds, with incentives to broaden participation to middle-class families. Quality benchmarks are included to ensure common and consistent standards. Additionally, states will be encouraged to expand the availability of full-day Kindergarten and investments will be made in Head Start to strengthen and expand services for children three years old and younger. An Early Head Start-Child Care partnership and home visiting expansion will ensure the building blocks to prepare the youngest children and incorporate parents into the early education solution.
This morning, while the President was traveling to promote his State of the Union agenda, he visited College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center in Decatur, Georgia. College Heights is an early childhood program that includes Head Start, Early Head Start, state-funded prekindergarten (pre-K), and preschool special education programs. In highlighting the center as a partnership model for the nation, Obama said, “If you’re looking for a good bang for your education buck, this is it right here.” Furthermore, Georgia as a whole was the first state in the country to offer universal pre-K and is one of five states currently offering it. However, decreased funding and increased enrollment have taken a toll on quantity, quality and access in the forms of reduced schedules, large classrooms, long wait lists and the elimination of family resource coordinator positions.
The President’s early childhood plan points to economics and social science research that show how quality early childhood education leads to long-term success in school, work and society, including a high return on taxpayer investments. It further highlights disparities in early education opportunities for children. For vulnerable children, access to quality early education, including comprehensive supports to engage parents will prevent child maltreatment by strengthening and stabilizing families.