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State of the Union Address

Obama Calls for States, Federal Government to Launch Universal Preschool Program

February 14, 2013

President Barack Obama touched on several education-related topics in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night.

Perhaps the point of greatest interest for educators in K-12 schools was the president’s call for states and the federal government to create a universal preschool program, open to all of the nation’s children. The president said:

Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road.  But today, fewer than 3 in 10 four year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program.  Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for a private preschool.  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.  That's something we should be able to do. 

Every dollar we invest in high-quality early childhood education can save more than seven dollars later on -- by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime.  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, form more stable families of their own.  We know this works.  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.

The President did not offer any substantial details about how a national effort for universal preschool would be organized, or financed.

The President also called for job-oriented high school programs:

Let’s also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job.  Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges.  So those German kids, they're ready for a job when they graduate high school.  They've been trained for the jobs that are there.  Now at schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, collaboration between New York Public Schools and City University of New York and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate's degree in computers or engineering.  We need to give every American student opportunities like this.

And the President referenced his administration’s Race to the Top program. But instead of calling for new teacher evaluation measures, as he has in past State of the Union addresses, Obama put the emphasis on a more collaborative approach involving K-12 educators, colleges and employers in this year’s address.

...Four years ago, we started Race to the Top – a competition that convinced almost every state to develop smarter curricula and higher standards, all for about 1 percent of what we spend on education each year.  Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy.  And we’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill the jobs that are there right now and will be there in the future.

The President also mentioned the increasingly high cost of a college education, and proposed several measures (again, without providing many details).

Now, even with better high schools, most young people will need some higher education.  It’s a simple fact the more education you’ve got, the more likely you are to have a good job and work your way into the middle class.  But today, skyrocketing costs price too many young people out of a higher education, or saddle them with unsustainable debt.

Through tax credits, grants and better loans, we’ve made college more affordable for millions of students and families over the last few years.  But taxpayers can’t keep on subsidizing higher and higher and higher costs for higher education.  Colleges must do their part to keep costs down, and it’s our job to make sure that they do.

So tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid. And tomorrow, my administration will release a new “College Scorecard” that parents and students can use to compare schools based on a simple criteria – where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.  
Now, to grow our middle class, our citizens have to have access to the education and training that today’s jobs require.  But we also have to make sure that America remains a place where everyone who’s willing to work – everybody who’s willing to work hard has the chance to get ahead.

Source:  The White House