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US President Barak Obama’s 2014 budget proposal asks for an “historic investment” in early learning opportunities. President Obama is being applauded for taking a bold step towards removing stumbling blocks that low-income children and other vulnerable preschoolers often face on the path towards success in school.

Per Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, budgets are more than just numbers — they are a reflection of social values. This budget proposal clearly demonstrates the president’s belief in education as vital to America’s competitive viability in a global economy driven increasingly by innovation. It is also a vote for reversing the erosion of the middle class.

Specifically, the fiscal year 2014 budget request calls for $71 billion in discretionary appropriations for education, of which almost 72% goes to financial aid for college students, special education, and aid to schools in poor communities. The remaining 28% is to be invested in early learning: to greatly increase access to preschool, fund K-12 reform, help make college more affordable, and provide services to students living in poverty.

The “Preschool for All” component of the proposed budget requests appropriations of $1.3 billion in 2014 and $75 billion over 10 years in mandatory funding, along with $750 million for competitively awarded Preschool Development Grants. A further $15 billion is earmarked for home care visiting programs to support and educate parents of early learners.

The premise of these expenditures is that a strong middle class is founded on a strong education for every child. Yet many American kids lack access to preschool — currently the US ranks 28th globally in enrollment of 4-year-olds in early learning, and 25th in public investment in preschool. Less than one-third of US children attend a quality preschool program.

Studies unambiguously show that children who have positive early learning experiences do better in school. Echoing the advice of the recent report from The Equity and Excellence Commission, the goal of Preschool for All is to “enable every American 4-year-old to attend a quality preschool program — one characterized by well-organized learning experiences, guided exploration, art, and storytelling, led by a skilled teacher.”

States will provide the services, with states and the federal government sharing costs. States must meet “essential criteria” to receive federal funds. Initially the federal government will cover more of the program costs, with states gradually taking over funding year by year. The money will come from a new, $0.94 increase in the tobacco tax. (California’s Proposition 10 is an example of successfully using tobacco tax revenue to fund early learning.)

Besides investing in the future of America’s children, if these education items are funded the new budget is also likely to create jobs for preschool teachers, tutors and aides, as well as other jobs in education. At a time when sequestration and other budget cuts are negatively impacting all levels of education, this could be welcome news.

Featured image courtesy of peasap.

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