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Obama: Give 4-Year-Olds a Jump Start

In his State of the Union Address, President Obama joined NY Governor Cuomo in pledging to commit more resources and support for pre-kindergarten programs  an investment they say will boost the economy while producing better students and citizens. Photo courtesy Build Initiative
In his State of the Union Address, President Obama joined NY Governor Cuomo in pledging to commit more resources and support for pre-kindergarten programs an investment they say will boost the economy while producing better students and citizens. Photo courtesy Build Initiative
February 14, 2013

ALBANY, N.Y. - In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama committed to universal pre-K, with the goal of all children entering kindergarten prepared for academic success. The President proposed working with Congress to provide all 4-year-olds in low- and moderate-income families with high-quality preschool, and expanding it to reach hundreds of thousands of middle-class children.

The President also said he would incentivize full-day kindergarten policies, something Gov. Cuomo addressed in his budget proposal. That idea got high marks from Gerrit Westervelt of the Build Initiative, a national early childhood advocacy group.

"Gov. Cuomo is among a large number of governors - both Republicans and Democrats - who are recognizing that their school reform efforts will be greatly aided by quality early childhood programs," Westervelt said.

Growing evidence shows the importance of quality preschool in closing the achievement gap facing low-income students, he added, noting that states have cut preschool budgets over the last decade by an average of $700 per child.

Westervelt pointed to research over the past two decades showing that an investment in readying kids for school pays off dramatically in the long run.

"If you have a high-quality early-childhood experience," he said, "you are more likely to be employed, more likely to pay more in taxes, less likely to be in special education, less likely to drop out of school, less likely to be involved in the criminal justice system. The payoffs are just huge."

Westervelt said he saw much to like in recent efforts to expand health care to children, mental and dental health initiatives, and support for struggling families.

"There is a systemic reform movement going on in early childhood, of which pre-K is the key part," he noted. "We're very grateful that the federal government is stepping up."

Cuomo's proposal called for spending an extra $25 million to help launch pre-kindergarten programs in high-needs school districts and expand existing half-day programs to a full day.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY