President Barack Obama is embarking on a $1 billion package that will provide public and private funding for US preschool programs during a summit on early childhood education.
As part of the funding efforts, the Walt Disney Company has given $55 million in “Disney Imagicademy” apps and books. The supplies will aid in the improvement of pre-kindergarten reading programs across the nation.
The Obama administration is also set to launch its “Invest in US” campaign in the hopes of increasing private investment in the programs. A promotional campaign will include the voices of a number of celebrities including Shakira, Jennifer Garner and John Legend.
“What we’re demonstrating here is how important this is, that we’re making progress and doing it in a bipartisan way,” said Obama domestic policy adviser Cecilia Munoz.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan discussed research from University of Chicago economist James Heckman, which demonstrated how a high quality pre-kindergarten education can lead to higher lifetime earnings and lessened social costs, meaning attending preschool can pay dividends of seven times the investment later in life. “In how many other places do we see a seven-to-one [return on investment]?” Duncan asked.
The package will see 75% of its funding coming from existing government grant programs. Almost four dozen private sector companies, including LEGO and PVH Corp, who owns such clothing lines as Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, have each promised donations of over $300 million put together.
According to the Education Department, the new grants will give 63,000 children access to early childhood education programs in the coming year.
The agency went on to say that just three out of 10 American four-year-olds currently have access to a state-funded preschool program.
“We’re seeing just tremendous interest from Republican and Democratic governors across the nation” to expanding the grant programs, said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “What still haunts me is the unmet need in state after state after state. … There are so many 3- and 4-year-olds that still don’t have access and we know the consequences long-term when we fail to prepare them for kindergarten.”
A Gallup poll from September determined that 75% of Americans surveyed said they would support efforts to offer a publicly-funded pre-kindergarten education to every child. Despite this, Republicans were less likely to offer their support, with only 53% supporting these efforts compared to 87% of Democrats.
The White House is hopeful that the issues surrounding early childhood education will become common ground for the Republican-controlled Congress in the next year.
“We all share the same aspirations for our young people. And I was encouraged that this year Republicans agreed to investments that expanded early childhood education,” Obama said in a Nov. 5 news conference after the midterm elections. “I think we’ve got a chance to do more on that front.”