President Obama used his State of the Union address to call for expanded education funding that would help extend preschool to all American children, saying he wanted to work “with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America.” Today, the administration indicated that they will include funding for a universal preschool program in the budget proposal it will release next week.
Obama’s budget, the New York Times reports, will increase taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products to pay for expanded funding for universal preschool:
Mr. Obama will propose other spending and tax credit initiatives, including aid for states to make free prekindergarten education available nationwide — a priority outlined in his State of the Union address in February. He will propose to pay for it by raising federal taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products.
Further details, including how much funding Obama’s budget will put toward the program, are unclear. The Center for American Progress outlined a plan early this year that would make preschool free for families that earned up to 200 percent of the federal poverty line while providing grants to families above that threshold that would cover between 30 percent and 95 percent of the total cost. The CAP plan, according to its estimates, would cost roughly $98 billion over the next decade.
Universal preschool would come with substantial benefits for both the economy and the children it serves. Children who do not receive early childhood education are more likely to drop out of school, become teen parents, or get arrested for violent crime. They are less likely to attend college. Universal programs enacted in states and cities have shown benefits: a study of Chicago’s program, for instance, found that it generated “$11 of economic benefits over a child’s lifetime for every dollar spent initially on the program.” Other studies have shown that the programs boost both human capital and the nation’s gross domestic product while also reducing societal and economic costs later in children’s lives.
This investment is also needed, particularly at a time when budget cuts have reduced funding for Head Start and other early education programs. According to the Organization for Economic Development, the United States currently ranks near the bottom for spending on early childhood education compared to other advanced democracies.