Obama to announce new grants to states for preschool

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 10, 2014 10:21 AM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Wednesday will announce more than $1 billion in public and private investments in preschool programs, a small step toward the kind of infusion the White House says is needed.

Fewer than a third of U.S. 4-year-olds are currently enrolled in preschool programs that help them do better when they get to elementary school and help increase their learning and earning potential later in life.

The United States ranks 28th in access to preschool among industrialized nations. "We are not close to where we need to be," Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters on a conference call.

"Quite frankly, as a nation, we should be ashamed," Duncan said.

Obama has proposed $75 billion in federal investments over 10 years to help states provide preschool for 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income households.

States currently spend more than $5 billion on preschool programs, according to the National Institute for Early Education.

At a White House summit, the Education Department will announce grants of more than $226 million to 18 states to enroll more than 33,000 kids in programs, and the Health and Human Services Department will announce up to $500 million for Head Start and child care programs for more than 30,000 infants and toddlers.

The private sector also will commit more than $330 million to projects, including $55 million from Walt Disney Co <DIS.N>, and $25 million from the family foundation of J.B. Pritzker, a Chicago businessman whose sister is Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.

The White House has worked to leverage money from the private sector to help boost its policy priorities in areas where Congress has not provided the kind of support that Obama has requested.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Nick Zieminski)