President Barack Obama wrapped up his post-State of the Union three-state tour on Friday where he laid out reasons for raising the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour, revitalizing neighborhoods, and addressing gun violence. During the President’s tour he also focused on his plan to making Pre-K available to all of the nation’s 4-year-old.
In making his case for universal Pre-K, he visited one of Metro Atlanta’s successful early learning sites. Speaking to a crowd at Decatur’s Recreation Center on Valentine’s Day, President Barack Obama praised Georgia early education efforts and said, "Most parents cannot afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool. I propose working with states like Georgia to make high quality preschool available to every child in America."
Several hundred people were on hand for the President’s tour of College Heights Early Learning Center in Decatur and his remarks at the Decatur Recreation Center. While at the school the President participated in some three dimensional learning activities with the children including building towers and sculptures. He pointed out how young minds are like sponges ready to learn and investing in early education, “gives kids a leg up in life, making them better students and citizens.”
"Every dollar we invest in high quality, early childhood education can save more than $7 later on, by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime," said Obama.
The value of Pre-K is undisputed among educators who say there is a learning and achievement gap between children who have gone through Pre-K programs and those who have not. Often children who are not advancing as well as they should in school realize it at an early age. The President told the Decatur crowd that those are the students who began to fall back and we should not let that happen.
President Obama also pointed to the role of quality teachers’ in successful early learning efforts.
For Georgia, the Pre-K program has a 20 year track record that is funded by Georgia Lottery dollars. In 1992, under Governor Zell Miller, the Georgia’s Pre-K Program began as a pilot program serving 750 at-risk four-year-old children and their families at 20 sites. Three million dollars from state funds paid for the program. In 1993-94, the first lottery funds were utilized to provide prekindergarten programs for more than 8,700 at-risk four-year-old children. In September 1995 the program was universally opened to all eligible four-year-old children, not just at-risk families. Today, Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning operates and administers Georgia’s Pre-K Program serving about 84-thousand 4-year-olds statewide and with a waiting list of 8,000.
President Obama told the cheering Decatur crowd, “The size of your paycheck shouldn’t determine your child’s school,” and the focus should be “giving our kids the best possible shot.”
During his State of the Union address, Obama said fewer than 3 in 10 4-year-olds in America are enrolled in quality pre-school programs, something he wants to change.
But the challenge with meeting that goal will be a Congressional one with many Republicans not interested in increasing federal spending for education proposals. Making Pre-K available to all 4-year-old in the country will not only require a financial plan that both political parties can agree to, but will require the support and commitment of state Governors. The President wants the federal government to work hand in hand with states to increase preschool opportunities. He also wants to increase the quality of education in high school, specifically technical vocational schools.