WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama pledged Tuesday night to provide money to states for early childhood education while asking Congress to make pre-K education available to every 4-year-old in America.
“As Congress decides what it’s going to do, I’m going to pull together a coalition of elected officials, business leaders and philanthropists willing to help more kids access the high-quality pre-K they need,” Obama said in his annual State of the Union address.
The biggest surprise in the education portion of the address was Obama’s announcement that he already has a down payment on plans to connect more than 15,000 schools to high-speed Internet over the next two years. Companies such as Apple, Microsoft and Verizon have helped pay for the effort.
Obama also said he wanted to work on the loans taken out for higher education.
“We worked with lenders to reform student loans, and today, more young people are earning college degrees than ever before,” Obama said. “And I want to work with Congress to see how we can help even more Americans who feel trapped by student loan debt.”
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, was pleased to hear Obama expand on his commitment to higher education and early education.
“The investment we make as a nation in early learning will pay dividends for generations to come,” Harkin said in a statement following the address. “Not only did the president address the benefits of investing in early learning, but also the realization that we must take action against the increasing cost of college and the burden of student loan debt, which are putting the promise of higher education out of reach for far too many students.”
The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 includes for mandatory funding for early childhood funding of at least $250 million.
Rhian Evans Allvin, executive director of the National Association for the Education of Young People, said Obama’s focus on early childhood education is importance. “The state of our country is a reflection of the state of our children and families,” Allvin said. “High quality early childhood programs are the linchpin to everything we want to accomplish as a nation.”