Selling Obama’s ‘preschool for all’

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is trying to persuade Republican governors to persuade Republicans in Congress to back $75 billion in new tobacco taxes to fund President Obama’s “preschool for all” initiative, reports the Washington Post.

“The average disadvantaged child comes to kindergarten a year to a year and a half behind other kids,” Duncan said. “And we spend all this time and money trying to catch them up. And we wonder why we have an achievement gap.”

The plan doesn’t really offer preschool to “all.”  States would get federal grants to fund preschool for 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families. The federal share would diminish from 91 percent to 25 percent after 10 years. Obama also is seeking $15 billion for programs for babies and toddlers.

Georgia has funded its own preschool program. Republican Gov. Nathan Deal wants some of the money spent on Head Start, the federal preschool program for poor children. “We could do a better job of it because, frankly, our program is better,” Deal said.

Without new taxes, there isn’t enough money, Duncan responded. “I’m talking about a massive influx of resources . . . Our goal is to dramatically expand access.”

If Duncan is serious about high-quality preschool, he’ll offer Republicans more than a new federal tax, writes Mike Petrilli.

Cut the TRIO programs, which (as a recent Brookings paper shows) don’t work at preparing disadvantaged high school students for college. That’s $1 billion a year.

Cut Title II of ESEA, which is a big slush fund for school districts to spend on “teacher stuff” and class-size reduction—with no evidence of results. $3 billion a year.

Cut Pell grants, many of which are flowing to remedial-education courses from which disadvantaged students never escape. Introduce some minimal standards so that only students who are college-ready—a very low bar for community colleges, it turns out—can receive the aid. I bet you could shave $5 billion a year easy—a big chunk of it currently landing in for-profit universities.

Cut $9 billion and then ask Republicans to pitch in $1 billion in new money, Petrilli suggests.

Head Start hasn’t produced lasting benefits for low-income children. I think Duncan’s first step is explaining why “preschool for some” will be more effective. And why not let states expand their preschools with Head Start funding?

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  1. BadaBing says:

    Taxing the poor in the name of “social justice.”

  2. Pff. What’s “behind?” Who is to say that the advantaged children are not “ahead?” Why does everyone have to develop at the same pace according to some dopey test? We keep throwing money at stuff and making up problems to deal with. I know graduate students who are plenty poor, and yet their children are just fine. It isn’t economics and it isn’t preschool.

    Try a new mindset and some parenting skills.

  3. I’m not in the least convinced that schools are “spending all this time and money trying to catch them up.” Most schools are not using properly-sequenced, content-rich curricula like Core Knowledge and Singapore Math and they are wasting huge amounts of time on things like group work and discovery learning; as opposed to using teacher-centered explicit instruction (or Direct Instruction). AFAIK, the DC schools are still using an Afrocentric curriculum, which certainly doesn’t help kids catch up to kids who are exposed to a much wider menu.