Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton yesterday proposed that the federal government provide states with up to $10 billion to ensure all 4-year-olds have pre-kindergarten education.
"Every child not just children whose parents can afford it should have the same chance to succeed," said Mrs. Clinton, New York Democrat. "As president, I will establish universal pre-kindergarten education through a federal-state partnership."
In the first major education initiative of her campaign, Mrs. Clinton proposed a voluntary program yesterday that would start with a $5 billion federal commitment for interested states to create universal pre-K programs or bolster their existing ones, including Head Start. States would match the investment dollar for dollar, and the federal contribution would increase to $10 billion over five years, as state investment did.
Mrs. Clinton said she'd pay for the hefty price tag by getting rid of tax loopholes and some Bush administration programs, according to the Associated Press. She said ending the Iraq war would free up some money as well, the AP reported.
Critics said her pre-K plan would be major expansion of the federal role in education, when preschool programs haven't truly been proven effective.
"Senator Clinton is really proposing to pressure states into implementing universal preschool. That's really a remarkable new role for federal government," said Dan Lips of the Heritage Foundation.
Thirty-eight states had preschool programs in 2006, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research. The Clinton camp stressed their program would be voluntary, but Mr. Lips said the draw of money would lure states into what would become a web of new federal rules.
Among the requirements of the Clinton plan, states would have to provide free preschool to low-income and limited-English families, hire teachers with bachelor's degrees and training in early-childhood development, ensure low child-to-teacher ratios and use age-appropriate curriculum, yet to be defined.
Ajay Chaudry, director of the Urban Institute's Center on Labor, Human Services and Population, said Mrs. Clinton's proposal addresses a real need and that "it's pretty clear" there would be long-term benefits.
"I do think that there's a need for additional resources for preschool education," he said. A federal role in education has long been supported, he added, and Mrs. Clinton's plan "is just aging that down." He also cited research showing benefits of early education.
Darcy Olsen, president of the Goldwater Institute, countered that preschool "at best has mixed short-term results," citing a study that found achievement benefits for children who attended preschool start to disappear by third grade. She called Mrs. Clinton's plan "a black hole" and said the focus should be on improving K-12.
Some of the latest research will likely be discussed today, when early-childhood education specialists come to Capitol Hill for a summit on children, organized by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.
Meanwhile, leaders from the group Strong American Schools complained loudly that presidential candidates still aren't focusing on improving K-12 education. SAS Chairman Roy Romer, a former Democratic governor of Colorado, said it's fine that presidential candidates have begun to discuss higher education and pre-K efforts, but those simply won't work without "the K-12 reforms that are desperately needed."