It is federal budget season again, and President Barack Obama is pushing for big investments and changes in early education, proposing healthy increases in spending on home visiting, preschool and Head Start.
In his 212-page vision for federal spending, the president once again proposed his plan to expand and improve preschool. He asked Congress for $500 million for Preschool Development Grants to states, which would double the current spending level, and repeated his plan to create a $75 billion universal preschool system, funded by a tobacco tax, Politics K-12 reports. Among other highlights was a requested $100 million boost for the federal home visiting program, Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV).
The president’s fiscal plan will spark the usual cry from insiders that it’s DOA in Congress. On one level, they are right because much of the president’s fiscal plan is on a slow ride through congressional hearings to partisan death.
Despite the cynics, though, there is real value in this budget when it comes to early education. A presidential budget sets a tone for debates in the coming months and years. In this case, the budget highlights and reinforces what the Obama administration will fight for when real changes in spending are made during brinksmanship budget deals, as early as this fall.
Let’s look at where President Obama has made perhaps his biggest impacts in early education. In the 2008 economic stimulus bill, the president secured a hefty $2.1 billion boost for Head Start and Early Head Start. That legislation set a new higher funding level for Head Start that has stuck, not counting a temporary drop during last year’s sequester battle.
Amid the fighting over the budget in 2011, the president won $500 million for the first Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge. Then last year he won $250 million for a competitive grant program that would develop, support or improve local and state pre-kindergarten programs. (This is the program he wants to fund at $500 million in the next fiscal year.) Neither agreement was a huge commitment, but both were policy shifts.
And these are only highlights. The Obama administration has won a series of other early education victories, including a sizable increase in funding for home visiting work.
None of these initiatives will remind folks of the War on Poverty or other grand federal gestures. Instead, President Obama is making quieter gestures that, taken together, when he leaves the Oval Office might well represent a bolder change of direction for early education than many thought as he pushed those changes through.
And it won’t be a war on anything.