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President Obama Pushes For Free Preschool

6:07 PM, Feb 13, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON (WUSA) -- One of the President Obama's biggest new policy proposals comes with a hefty price tag.

Universal preschool for every three or four-year-old in the country could cost nearly $200 billion dollars over the first ten years, but substantially less later, according to the Center for American Progress, a think tank close to the President.

But the President thinks the benefit is way bigger than the cost.

Millions of other parents all over the country have struggled to find and pay for preschool for our kids. Just like kindergarten and grade school, the President says this is something state, local and the federal government ought to provide all of America's children.

High quality preschool, like at Broadcasters Child Development Center in Northwest, can cost parents nearly $1,300 a month.But supporters say it offers youngsters real social and academic advantages.

DC offers 6,000 free preschool slots to residents. And even more conservative states like Oklahoma have seen the benefits of giving three and four year olds some early education.

"The studies have pretty conclusively shown that a high quality preschool program has really positive consequences for children generally," says William Gormley of Georgetown University's Center Center for Research on Children. He says the positive results are particularly significant for disadvantaged children. "In the short run and in the longer run."

Studies on students in Oklahoma's program showed youngsters were five months ahead of their peers in math, and nine months ahead of them in reading, says Gormley.

Supporters got a big boost from the President in the State of the Union. "Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on -- by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime," the President told Congress.

"For us as early childhood professionals, it was like 'yes! It's about time someone brought it to the forefront," says Shannon M. O'Leary of Broadcasters Child Development Center in Northwest DC.

The White House offered few details of its plan, but the Center for American Progress is pushing a program to have Washington match state spending up to an average of about $10-thousand a year.

It's hard to imagine deficit hawks voting for such a huge new program. But supporters say they need to consider the costs of inaction. "Weaker educational attainment, higher rates of juvenile delinquency, lower high school graduation rates, and lower adult earnings," says Gormley.

Critics have their own studies that suggest the benefits of universal preschool are fleeting, and the costs sometimes much higher than predicted. So with everything he already has on his plate, it will be interesting to see how hard President Obama pushes this.

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