Obama to unveil plans to expand preschool programs in Ga. speech

President Obama will unveil details of his proposal to expand preschool programs during a visit to Decatur, Ga., on Thursday, his next stop on a three-day tour to promote his second-term agenda.

Obama first proposed universal early education programs for preschool children during Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

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The president said he was committed to “working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America.” 

“In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own,” said Obama. “So let’s do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance.”

Obama will visit a pre-kindergarten classroom at College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center in Decatur. In his speech at the Decatur Community Recreation Center, the president will “propose a series of new investments that will establish a continuum of high-quality early learning for a child,” according to the White House.

Those measures include more funding for Head Start, a federal program for low-income preschool children. Obama will also announce a “federal-state partnership” to provide matching funds for preschool education for all low-income four-year-old children, as well as measures to establish “quality benchmarks” for states and efforts to expand the availability of full-day kindergarten programs.   

But the president’s call for more spending on preschool programs and education come as the government is bracing for $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts slated to take effect in March. 

Obama warned last week that if the sequester kicks in, the cuts could cause sharp reductions in federal education programs. The White House said Head Start services could be eliminated for as many as 70,000 enrolled children and that federal support for 17,000 teachers, including as many as 7,200 special-education teachers, would be cut.

The president has also yet to reveal how much his proposals would cost, but in his State of the Union speech he told lawmakers that his plans would not add to the deficit. 

Republicans, though, were quick to rebuff many of the president’s proposals, calling for a renewed focus on spending cuts and entitlement reform to rein in the deficit. 

Both parties hope to avoid the March 1 cuts, but Republicans are opposing Democratic calls to replace the sequester with a package of new tax revenues and spending cuts.