Obama vows early childhood education push

The president will be touring the country in the coming weeks to press for congressional action on his State of the Union agenda, the White House said Sunday, starting with a stop in Austin, Texas, on Thursday. On the agenda: support for the economy and the middle class, including raising the minimum wage and investing in early childhood education.

“We're going to start doing these day trips that highlight these three questions,” a White House official told reporters on Sunday: “How do we make America a magnet for jobs, how do we make sure workers have the needed skills to compete, and how do we make sure an honest day's work leads to a decent living?”

“This doesn't necessarily represent a significant change in strategy, as much as it does sort of adding another, sort of reinforcing an idea that's been at the top of our agenda for a long time. The goal is to have a substantive conversation about some of these issues.”

The announcement comes after Obama vowed during his trip to Costa Rica to expand early childhood education.

“What I did in the State of the Union was propose that we impose an additional federal tax on cigarettes in order to pay for an expansion for high-quality, universal early childhood education,” Obama told a gathering of Central American business leaders on Saturday. “You get the real benefit of reducing smoking, which saves on our healthcare costs, at the same time as we're able to improve early childhood education.

“Now, whether we're going to be able to get that passed or not, I don't know. It’s always a struggle to get new revenue for worthy endeavors, but there’s no bigger bang for the buck that you can get than making this investment in early childhood education. So I'm going to keep on arguing for it forcefully.”

In his State of the Union, Obama said the United States is failing its youngest citizens, with fewer than three in 10 4-year-olds enrolled in a “high-quality” preschool program.

“Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for a private preschool,” he said in February. “And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives. So tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America.”