Days before President Barack Obama outlines his agenda for the coming year, a think tank with close ties to the White House is outlining a plan that would provide preschool for all children within five years.
The Center for American Progress proposal, released Thursday, provides a road map for how the Obama administration could move forward with pre-kindergarten programs for all 3- and 4-year-olds. For families with younger children, federal subsidies for child care would increase to an average $7,200 per child and the number of students in Early Head Start programs would double.
“We’re trying to ensure all children are ready to learn when they get to school,” said Neera Tanden, the president and CEO of the think tank and a former top policy official in the Obama administration. “Investing in early learning and pre-K is the best investment that we can make. The return on investment is significant.”
Education Department officials, including Secretary Arne Duncan, have signaled that pre-kindergarten programs would be a priority during Obama’s second term. The Center for American Progress has been an influential partner for the White House in fleshing out its policies. Think tank officials say they don’t know what precisely will be in Obama’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday, but seldom does the organization move too far or too quickly ahead of White House priorities.
Under the center’s plan, Washington would match states’ spending on these preschool programs for 3- or 4-year-olds at an average rate of $10,000 per child — enough to cover full-day programs. The program would be phased in over five years, starting first with low-income students who, studies show, benefit the most from pre-kindergarten programs.
Children ages 3 and 4 would be eligible to attend preschool for free if they come from a family of four earning $46,100 or less. For families making more than that, the rates would be adjusted based on income.
The price tag for the plan is not small: Over a 10-year period, it would cost $98.4 billion for preschool, $84.2 billion for child care subsidies and $11.5 billion for Early Head Start — a total of almost $200 billion. Once the program was up and running, it would cost nearly $25 billion a year — $12.3 billion for preschool, $10.5 billion for child care subsidies and $1.4 billion for Early Head Start.
(Next page: The challenge of more spending)