Obama's Plan for Universal Pre-K

White House / Flickr

If you haven’t already, you should read Sharon Lerner on Oklahoma’s attempt to provide high-quality preschool education to all of its students. It offers a glimpse into what the Obama administration intends with its universal pre-K push, and it’s a hopeful story to boot.

In the meantime, it’s worth look at the administration’s proposals, which were released this morning. Here is an extended excerpt from the White House fact sheet:

The President’s proposal will improve quality and expand access to preschool, through a cost sharing partnership with all 50 states, to extend federal funds to expand high-quality public preschool to reach all low- and moderate-income four-year olds from families at or below 200% of poverty. The U.S. Department of Education will allocate dollars to states based their share of four-year olds from low- and moderate-income families and funds would be distributed to local school districts and other partner providers to implement the program. The proposal would include an incentive for states to broaden participation in their public preschool program for additional middle-class families, which states may choose to reach and serve in a variety of ways, such as a sliding-scale arrangement.

  • Funds will support states as they ensure that children are enrolled in high-quality programs. In order to access federal funding, states would be required to meet quality benchmarks that are linked to better outcomes for children, which include:

    • State-level standards for early learning;
    • Qualified teachers for all preschool classrooms; and
    • A plan to implement comprehensive data and assessment systems.

The proposal also encourages states to expand the availability of full-day kindergarten. Only 6 out of 10 of America’s kindergarten students have access to a full day of learning. In order to ensure that our kindergartners spend the time they need in school to reach rigorous benchmarks and standards, funds under this program may also be used to expand full-day kindergarten once states have provided preschool education to low- and moderate-income four year-olds.

  • Under the President’s proposal, investment in the federal Head Start program will continue to grow. The President’s plan will maintain and build on current Head Start investments, to support a greater share of infants, toddlers, and three-year olds in America’s Head Start centers, while state preschool settings will serve a greater share of four-year olds.

Quality Early Learning for Our Youngest Children The President is proposing to expand the Administration’s evidence-based home visiting initiative, through which states are implementing voluntary programs that provide nurses, social workers, and other professionals to meet with at-risk families in their homes and connect them to assistance that impacts a child’s health, development, and ability to learn. These programs have been critical in improving maternal and child health outcomes in the early years, leaving long-lasting, positive impacts on parenting skills; children’s cognitive, language, and social-emotional development; and school readiness. This will help ensure that our most vulnerable Americans are on track from birth, and that later educational investments rest upon a strong foundation.

Included in all of this are incentives to expand Head Start and Early Head Start, pay preschool teachers at the same rate as their K–12 counterparts, and continue Race to the Top-style programs for the allocation of federal grants and benefits.