Obama’s State of the Union Calls for Universal Preschool Education

In his State of the Union address, given in February, President Barack Obama called for universal early childhood education, citing studies that demonstrate that the “sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road.” He then went on to say that less than 30% of four-year-olds are “enrolled in a high-quality preschool program,” which he clearly believes to be problematic. He seeks to “make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind,” which can only be understood as an admirable goal.

President Obama’s overall plan is to work with states to make high-quality preschool education available to every child in America. He estimates that every dollar invested “can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, [and] even reducing violent crime.” In his later released detailed plan for this proposal, he outlines three main components:

  • A state-federal partnership to guarantee pre-K to all 4-year-olds in families at or below 200 percent of the poverty line, to be provided by school districts and other local partners, and to use instructors with the same level of education and training as K-12 instructions.
  • A massively expanded Early Head Start program — building on the existing program, which has proven very effective in randomized controlled trials — which provides early education, child care, parental education, and health services to vulnerable children ages 0 to 3.
  • Expanding Nurse Family Partnerships, a program that has also earned top marks in randomized trials, and which provides regular home visits from nurses to families from pregnancy through the child’s second birthday, intended to promote good health and parenting practices.

Professor James Heckman, Nobel Prize-winning economist at the University of Chicago, is presumed to be the author of the studies President Obama cited in his Address. His studies have concluded that preschool programs drastically affect children’s futures.

Two landmark studies demonstrate Heckman’s conclusions. The Perry Preschool Project in Ypsilanti, Michigan and the Abecedarian Project in North Carolina compared low-income children who attended preschool with their peers who did not attend preschool. Researchers studied the groups for decades, and found that the children who enrolled in preschool, “scored higher on achievement tests, attained higher levels of education, required less special education, earned higher wages, were more likely to own a home, and were less likely to go on welfare or be incarcerated than controls.”

It is still uncertain when the President’s proposals might come into effect and the reaction toward his plan has been divided. Opponents to universal preschool education are likely not against the goal of education for our youth to help their future, but more likely are opposed to the idea of taxpayer’s dollars paying for it.

Ashley Pierce

About Ashley Pierce

Ashley Pierce is a third year student at the University of Houston Law Center. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Houston Baptist University in 2010. While she was in college, she worked with a non-profit organization called Ambassadors for Christ that partnered at-risk youth with college students to serve as positive influences. During her first summer as a law student, Ashley worked in employment discrimination law with Bashen Corporation, in order to expand her horizons and see a completely different side of the legal world. During her second summer, she worked as a law clerk with Lilly, Newman & Van Ness, L.L.P., a family law firm. She will continue working there during her third year of law school. Ashley has always been passionate about helping children and families and she has a genuine interest in the intersection of psychology and the law. This year, she is looking forward to learning more about amicus work and she plans on focusing her research and writing on the "best interest" standard as it is applied to children.

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