But given the fierce debate on spending and debt — especially among Republicans — that kind of spending would probably meet resistance in Congress even if Obama embraced it as a blueprint.
“This is an area where you have a challenge in the political timeline. Early learning is an investment when you get the returns in 10 or 20 years,” Tanden said. “What we do have in the arena of early learning is the hard data that shows the actual return on investment.”
For instance, a child who does not have early childhood education is 25 percent more likely to drop out of school, 40 percent more likely to become a teenage parent and 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime.
Closer to the kitchen table, the proposals have an economic resonance. The average family with two parents working and with children younger than 5 spends roughly a one-tenth of the income on child care. For families making less, that percentage climbs quickly.
In the think tank’s outline, states could partner with public school districts, charter schools, Head Start programs or child care agencies — a concession that could win over Republicans who want more options for parents.
The plan would double the number of families making $46,100 or less who receive child care subsidies, from 22 percent to 44 percent.
Currently, the average subsidy is about $5,600 annually — far short the actual cost of caring for these infants and toddlers. The proposal would have federal tax dollars cover 75 percent of the subsidy program and take the annual amount to about $7,200. States would be left to pick up the rest.
That part of the proposal would cost the federal government an estimated $84.2 billion over its first decade.
The proposal also would increase the number of students in Early Head Start programs from 120,000 to 240,000. That piece of the plan would cost $11.5 billion over its first 10 years.