Have you heard about the President’s initiative to provide quality preschool education for all children across the United States? In the 2014 budget, his administration is proposing that we earmark $75 billion over ten years to expand high quality learning opportunities for low income families. He wants to prioritize investments in education, taking our country’s children from cradle to career. Plus he wants to build and support a thriving middle class through education opportunity. Sounds pricey? Well, with his new 2014 budget proposal President Obama promises that the Pre K for All portion of his budget proposal will be fully funded and won’t add a nickel to the deficit.
The highlights seemed pretty good to me, but I wanted to hear more. So, when US Education Secretary Arne Duncan called me on Friday…okay, he didn’t call me exactly. I called in to talk to him. You see, the White House set up the call to inform media and bloggers about the 2014 budget proposal concerning the initiative “Pre K for All”. Though I am sure there were many other people on the line, it felt like Secretary Duncan was just talking to me as I posed three of the only four questions that were asked. Hard to believe, I know. After Secretary Duncan read his prepared statement, we were instructed to press *1 to let the moderator know that we had a question for him. I thought by pressing *1 I would be in line for a while before being given the chance (if any) to speak, but then they called my name first. I scrambled to come up with an intelligent query, because I had thought I would have more time. I pulled it together and asked US Education Secretary and former head of the always embattled Chicago Public Schools, Arne Duncan:
“Preschool is absolutely vital for children, I agree, but you spoke of a need for involved and aware parents. But if those parents are a product of a failed system, what are you doing to ensure that they will be able to actively and effectively contribute to their child’s educational success? Also, what are you doing with the budget to address the needs of elementary school children and up to ensure that we don’t lose another generation in the course of creating opportunities for the newest generation just entering Pre K?”
In answer to my question, Secretary Duncan wanted us to know that though the front end investment of the proposed budget is in Preschool education, the administration takes the issue of improving education as a whole very seriously. He had a lot more to say, but unfortunately they did not offering typing class in my school when I was a kid so I didn’t get all of it down. However, here are some of the highlights:
We will create new partnerships with states.
The states will work hand in hand with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Selibius.
Parents play a critical role. Need them to be highly engaged. Parents are the first and most important teachers for children. Parents have a tremendous impact on school readiness and readiness to learn. We recognize that parents may need extra support which is why partnerships with Health and Human Services will allow families to be connected to nurses for home visits and health services, as well as education support to improve overall health and wellness.
Do a lot more in the area of STEM.
Expand after school opportunities. We are asking for 100 million for that.
Invest $650 million in underperforming schools.
To address the issue of violence we will invest in school safety and community safety. As well we will address mental health issues. We are looking to spend 500 million on this.
We want 300 million to help redesign high schools, putting an emphasis on developing skills for college and careers
We want to see dual enrollment programs created, offering high school students the chance to take college level classes for credit. We are looking for 42 million to develop this
We have a $1 billion proposal to do a “race to top” for higher level education.
When the Secretary was done, I was startled to hear my name again, asking me for a follow up question. I am embarrassed to admit I was once again caught unaware, but I gathered my wits and I asked:
“Can you please breakdown how the administration is proposing to pay for this “Pre K for All” initiative exactly?“
The Secretary had this to say in follow up:
The $75 billion over 10 years Pre K for All initiative would be fully funded by a 94 cent per pack cigarette tax.
The proposal looks to invest in states that are investing in high quality education, and help them to better leverage their resources. In the first year of the 10-year proposal the government would put in 90 cents in for every 10 cents that states contributed. Making it a 90%/10% split. By the 10th and last year the government would reduce their contribution to 25% and the states would increase theirs to 75%.
My voice connection finally fell silent and someone else was able to join in and ask a question. Feeling emboldened though, I pressed *1 again with my fingers crossed that I would be blessed with the opportunity to pose a late question before they disconnected the call. Yet again, to my amazement I was called up (or out, however you want to look at it) as soon as the other woman’s question was completed. This time I was ready though. My third question was about teachers.
“An education program is only as good as the people leading it. What are you doing to ensure the quality of the teachers preparing young minds in this Pre K for All initiative?”
Here are some of the points that US Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius shared with me to answer my third question. (Oh, I didn’t mention that she and I were chatting too? Oh yeah, we’re buds as well.)
States would be able to reserve up to 20% of their funds in the first 4 years to address improving the quality of their programs including teacher credentials.
For states further behind in the development of a program at all, there is also a complimentary preschool development grant in this budget to help states build the capacity.
I wasn’t asked to follow up after that, but no other questions came through either just crickets. I couldn’t believe it. I quickly pressed *1 for a third time, but the gig was up. The hosts went into their “thank you” script and concluded the call.
Aside from the obvious benefit of getting the jump on details concerning the education portion of the President’s proposed 2014 budget, I found there to be a more specific and relatable moral to my personal story that I have since shared with my kids.
Information like education is there for the taking; you just have to step up and ask for what you need. Don’t be shy. Don’t hesitate. And there is absolutely no reason to apologize because you, just like everyone else, are deserving, entitled, and worthy of increased knowledge. Just be ready for the future, because it may be your present sooner than you expect.
Preschool, secondary education, high school and college FOR ALL!
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