The State of the Kindergarteners Should Be Strong

Obama gave the country a glimpse of his new pre-K initiative in last night State of the Union address—and reason to hope that he’ll bring the rest of the country toward the national models set by states such as Georgia and Oklahoma.

About halfway through the roughly hour-long speech, the President proposed “working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America,”—an ambitious goal, given that only 27 percent of four-year-olds are currently in public pre-K. With his comment that “Most middle-class parents can't afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool”—which was met with an emphatic “that’s right” from the audience—Obama gave voice to a huge frustration of parents across the political spectrum.

Those close to the issue had already been tipped off to the new initiative at a January meeting with Health and Human Services official Linda Smith, who estimated that the expansion of pre-K would reach some 1.85 million children and cost as much as $10 billion.

In his two minutes on the topic, Obama couldn’t provide much detail about how he’ll get to this high bar, but a fact sheet circulated by the administration before the speech provides a few more details, specifically that the White House is aiming “to provide all low- and moderate-income 4-year-old children with high-quality preschool, while also expanding these programs to reach hundreds of thousands of additional middle-class children, while also incentivizing full-day kindergarten policies, so that all children enter kindergarten prepared for academic success.”