Sensing a keen need to distract from public outrage over the implementation of President Barack Obama’s signature health-care law, congressional Democrats are preparing to unveil several new funding bills for the president’s favorite feel-good issue: universal preschool.
Obama has often touted increased pre-K funding as a panacea for various social maladies, including unemployment and crime. Now, Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin and Democratic Rep. George Miller stand at the ready to introduce bills in the Senate and House that would greatly expand and regulate preschools throughout the country. Those bills are expected as soon as Wednesday, according to The Huffington Post.
The details of the bills are still sketchy, but the proposals are expected to set up new funding mechanisms for existing pre-K programs, such as federal Head Start and various state programs. States that meet the criteria will qualify for matching grants from the feds that they can then use to bulk up their preschool programs.
Some of the more controversial qualifications are likely to include requirements that preschool teachers be paid as well as K-12 teachers, and also that states implement standardized testing for preschoolers — something that it certain to vex opponents of Common Core. (RELATED: Common Core requires 9-year-olds to be expert typists)
Proponents of universal preschool have long hoped to attract bipartisan support for their proposals, though Republicans have so far remained steadfastly opposed the president’s pre-K initiatives — including his recent plan to fund the idea by raising tobacco taxes. (RELATED: Obama’s plan to fund pre-K will run itself out of money)
Rick Hess, director of education policy at the center-right American Enterprise Institute, doubted that new pre-K efforts would go anywhere, given that the Senate version of the bill would have to move through the same committee that is responsible for healthcare issues.
“You’ve got an overcrowded agenda,” Hess told The Daily Caller. “You’re going into an election year.”
In times of crisis, Obama and Democrats like to talk about universal preschool because voters generally support spending money on education programs more than other things, said Hess.
“I think they would rather be taking about pre-K than Obamacare,” he said. “Pre-K is generally popular.”
Still, Hess and other experts who have studied the issue believe that increased pre-K funding would not meaningfully decrease crime or poverty. Studies have also shown that many of the academic gains made by kids enrolled in preschool programs fade by the time they reach fourth and fifth grade.
Miller and Harkin are expected to unveil their bill at the legislative session on Wednesday. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and actress Jennifer Garner are expected to attend, The Huffington Post reports.