Working Together to Achieve President Obama's Vision of High Quality Preschool for All
The details of President Obama's historic and far-reaching universal preschool initiative, unveiled in the State of the Union Address on Tuesday, are out. The public release of details happens today in Georgia, a state which was an early innovator in expanding preschool access. The official proposal reflects an ambitious vision that could extend the well documented benefits of high quality preschool and full-day Kindergarten to children in families under 200 percent of the federal poverty level, while also providing critical supports to families with infants and toddlers. CLASP applauds the Administration's goals, and particularly the President's approach toward expanding access to high quality preschool, which draws on policy strategies states and experts in early childhood development have honed over decades of research and innovation.
- To reach all families below 200 percent of the poverty line, the President proposes building on Early Head Start and Head Start, as well as leveraging the significant investments states have already made in preschool initiatives. Further, the initiative requires that states strive for quality in these programs to ensure they have the most benefit to children. The initiative specifically includes an emphasis on class size, teacher preparation, curriculum, comprehensive services, and evaluation.
- The President proposes strengthening coordination and partnerships between Early Head Start and child care programs to provide more infants and toddlers from low-income working families with much-needed, high-quality, full-time child care and comprehensive services.
- The President's proposal also incorporates critical preventive services for families with infants and toddlers, most notably extending access to evidence-based home visiting programs, which have been shown to have a positive impact on children's development and family well-being.
Like any ambitious plan, the President's preschool initiative faces significant barriers, and the Administration will not be able to address them alone. The early childhood community, Congress, state level policy makers, and advocates must work together to address serious challenges, including the following:
- Existing programs are dramatically underfunded, and it will take a large investment to build on their success. Currently only 42% of children eligible for Head Start preschool are served, and less than 4% of infants and toddlers eligible are in Early Head Start. The impending sequestration could make that worse. The ability to expand access to Head Start and Early Head Start, as the President proposes, will first require immediate attention to resolving the sequestration impasse with a balanced approach that both protects these investments from cuts and generates additional revenue.
- While Early Head Start and child care partnerships can go far in meeting the needs of working families with infants and toddlers, the same working families also need full-day, high-quality services for their preschool-aged children. The President's initiative should encourage states specifically to expand access to full-day preschool, and to create and support similar partnerships between Head Start preschool programs and child care partners to achieve the level of services working families need.
- With limited funds available, states already struggle with improving program quality. Supporting states in meeting the proposed quality goals will require significant resources, as well as state level assistance in developing and funding effective quality improvement strategies, especially for children who have special needs, children of immigrants, and English Language Learners.
While President Obama acknowledged many of these barriers in the detailed plan released this morning, the Administration cannot overcome them alone. CLASP looks forward to working with the Administration, Congress, and state level stakeholders to ensure that this vision that can mean so much for the future of children and families moves forward.