President Barack Obama made another push in last night’s State of the Union for a state-federal partnership that could build a new early education system, but with a twist. The president suggested he might not wait for Congress.
Given the partisan fighting that has stalled work on many public policy issues in Congress, the president is looking for new avenues to expand pre-kindergarten. One of those routes clearly will be working with states, because the president applauded the 30 states that increased spending on pre-kindergarten during the last year. Washington state is one of those 30.
Obama also unveiled a new vehicle to expand pre-k, one that will tap all the public support for early learning investments that is coming from the business community.
“And as Congress decides what it’s going to do, I’m going to pull together a coalition of elected officials, business leaders, and philanthropists willing to help more kids access the high-quality pre-K they need.”
—President Barack Obama, 2014 State of the Union, 1/29/14.
The makeup of this coalition should be interesting, and important. Will it, for example, include leaders from Wall Street? Many of the executives supporting early education are from corporate America. But Wall Street is where a lot of the money and influence are, to say nothing of potential tax breaks that could fund new work.
It’s also worth noting that the president stressed high-quality early learning. His section on early education was less than 150 words, so that mention carried meaning. In Washington state, the Legislature is considering the Early Start Act, which focuses on ensuring children receive high-quality care and moves to increase dosage by prioritizing programs that offer a full-workday schedule.
“The exciting thing about both the president’s proposal and the Early Start Act proposal is that both are focused not just on expanding access, but making sure any expansion focuses on high quality, too,” said Amy Blondin, head of government and community relations at Washington’s Department of Early Learning. “We’re keeping a pretty close eye on how the federal government rolls out any additional funding for high-quality opportunities, and working to make sure our state is well-positioned to take advantage of any new resources.”
While the president did not spend as much time on early education in his State of the Union this year, it clearly remains a priority. He simply may be looking for new partners.