Pre-K in President Obama’s Budget Proposal

Here it is, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: pre-K in President Obama’s FY14 budget! The budget was released on Wednesday with quite a bit of accompanying paperwork, but the basic takeaway is that the President proposed $75 billion over 10 years for the Education Department to match state efforts to expand access to high quality preschool. The program would be first focused on 4-year-olds below 200% of the federal poverty level (about $46,100 for a family of 4), though states would be incentivized to expand to middle-income families once these children were served. The plan would be funded through an increase in the tobacco tax – from $1.01 per pack to $1.95. I’ve written on the details of this plan along with our director at Preschool Matters, the blog of the National Institute for Early Education Research.

There’s been a lot of coverage of this proposal from several major media outlets, particularly as details of the tobacco tax emerged. If you’re looking for more information, I recommend several writers who know their early ed well. Fellow policy wonks at the New America Foundation explored early learning in this budget as well as key questions still out there on education in the budget more holistically. Joy Resmovits at the Huffington Post was one of the first journalist to predict early education in the State of the Union, so she’s followed this from the start. Check out her coverage on the response from the tobacco industry as well as why the plan won’t appeal to all states universally. Dylan Scott at Governing places this proposal in political context.

My thoughts – and only my thoughts! – on this proposal is that a tobacco tax is going to be a fight, and there are legitimate concerns about how to develop sustainable funding from a tax meant to drive down consumption. That being said, I’m eager to see how this conversations plays out at the national level. The President has elevated pre-K as a national priority, and this is a big moment in the field. By proposing the plan as a consumption tax and making it deficit neutral, I’m cautiously optimistic that the debate can center on the merits of the proposal and less on shouting over spending. Stay tuned!

UPDATE: The Washington Post’s Wonkblog wrote on the sustainability question last week, bringing up some important concerns. Economist Tim Bartik has a great piece up in response explaining that the budget numbers the federal government releases are constrained by certain rules, but looking at the long-term savings of high quality pre-K makes the case that a tobacco tax for pre-K would be sustainable, and wroth it.

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