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President unveils plan for expanding early childhood education

Head Start school yard in Compton.
Head Start school yard in Compton.
Deepa Fernandes/KPCC

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Two days after President Barack Obama's State of the Union vow to work toward universal high-quality preschool, the White House released its plan early Thursday morning.

The president proposes to:

* Expand the federal Early Head Start program, which subsidizes pre-K programs for disadvantaged families.

* Partner with states to guarantee preschool to all 4-year-olds in families at or below 200 percent of the poverty line.

* Ramp up existing in-home visiting nurse programs to support families in poverty from prenatal care until the child is two years old.

The plan does not include a pricetag.

Celia C. Ayala, CEO of Los Angeles Universal Preschool, called the proposal historic and a potential "game changer for the field of early education."

She and other advocates had been awaiting a federal push toward universal preschool.

"Investing in a child's early years will help them better succeed in school and in life," Ayala said.

In his State of the Union speech Tuesday--and the written plan released Thursday--the president made the same case. 

"A zip code should never predetermine the quality of any child’s educational opportunities," the plan's overview asserts.

The president will officially unveil his plan during a visit to an Early Head Start program in Georgia Thursday.

He will need broad bi-partisan support to ensure passage. That won't be easy. Republicans are already attacking the plan, saying it will add significantly to the nation's high debt.

His proposal is not the only one on the table.

U.S. Representatives Jared Polis (D-CO) and Don Young (R-AK) on Thursday reintroduced a bill that had died last session, the Continuum of Learning Act, that they say would help early childhood education through training, standards and providing a continum between pre-K and elementary school. It incorporates recommendations in a "call to action" from the advocacy group National Association for the Education of Young Children.

The bill would:

*Encourage schools and local boards of education to spend school improvement funds on preschool programs.

*Help states come up with appropriate early education standards.

* Train elementary school teachers and principals in child development and learning.

* Require states to create preschool teaching certificates.

What do you think of the proposals? Comment below  or on our Facebook page.