February 14, 2013 11:29:54 AM
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's ambitious plan to expand preschool programs comes as one out of every 13 students already in Head Start classrooms is at risk of being kicked out if lawmakers don't sidestep a budget meltdown.
Obama was set to talk about enlarging early childhood education programs such as Head Start during a stop today in Georgia. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, meanwhile, was set to tell senators on Capitol Hill that the pending budget cuts could be devastating to current students.
Obama's team is warning Congress -- and lawmakers' constituents -- what is expected to happen if leaders fail to avert $85 billion in automatic budget cuts set to begin March 1. With the cuts looming, the administration has increased its pressure on lawmakers, and Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday made clear he was not looking for compromise as he began his second term.
"I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America," Obama told Congress and a national television audience.
The White House fleshed out Obama's plan today, proposing a "continuum of high-quality early learning for a child, beginning at birth and continuing to age 5." Government would fund public preschool for any 4-year-old whose family income is 200 percent or less of the federal poverty level -- a more generous threshold than the current Head Start program, which generally serves kids from families below 130 percent of the poverty line. All 50 states and the federal government would chip in.
Obama also is proposing letting communities and child care providers compete for grants to serve children 3 and younger, starting from birth. And once a state has established its program for 4-year-olds, it can use funds from the program to offer full-day kindergarten, the plan says.
Still missing from Obama's plan are any details about the cost, a key concern among Republicans. The White House says federal investment in Head Start, an $8 billion program that serves almost 1 million kids, will grow. But Obama's aides have stressed that the new programs would not add to the nation's nearly $16.5 trillion debt.