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Obama skirts Congress, funds pre-K through Obamacare

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Robby Soave
Reporter

With congressional Republicans refusing to finance an expensive universal preschool proposal, President Obama is seeking an alternate funding source: Obamacare.

Universal pre-K is one of Obama’s favorite “big ideas” — and one he has mentioned repeatedly in the past few months. But his proposal to bulk up federal and state pre-K programs by raising tobacco taxes is unlikely to pass the Republican House of Representatives.

Instead, Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have turned to discretionary funding allocations in Race to The Top, a federal education grant to the states, and even Obamacare.

A provision of Obama’s health-care law, the Affordable Care Act, sets aside money for both state and federal authorities to fund school readiness programs for at-risk youth, according to Politico.

And the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge — a $500 million pile of money for state education projects — could be used to for preschool programs.

The Education and Health and Human Services Departments have also doled out $89 million to six states for early childhood education programs.

“It’s a smart strategy with limited resources,” said Lisa Guernsey, director of the Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation, in a statement.

But many experts who have studied the issue of universal preschool say there are good reasons not to fund it. Several analysts have found that kids who went to preschool are no better off than their peers by the time they enter the fifth grade.

An oft-cited study that did associate positive results with universal pre-K, on the other hand, examined a limited pool of students, and shouldn’t be held up as the definitive answer on the issue.

“Given the kind of programs the president is likely to fund and what the real results are likely to be, I think it’s a heck of lot less convincing,” said Rick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Though funding universal pre-K via tax increases won’t fly with Republican in Congress, it’s easier for Republican governors to simply say yes to federal grant money to establish the programs.

But if they do, they will find themselves having to raise the funds for preschool programs themselves after the grants run out, said Hess.

“It’s not like the president has any plan to actually pay for this,” he said. “He’s going to stick states with the bill.”

But even if Obama never gets his way on universal pre-K, the fact that the policy sounds appealing makes it an easy sound bite, said Hess.

“It’s political theater at this point,” he said.

Obama recently added a preschool specialist to his education team. Dr. Libby Doggett, former director of the Pew Home Visiting Campaign, is joining the Education Department as deputy assistant secretary for early education later this month.

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