Obama announcing $1B in public-private money to boost early access to education

Associated Press

President Barack Obama is following up on his promise to expand early education opportunities for tens of thousands of children by announcing a $1 billion public-private investment in programs for the nation's youngest learners.

The president will join a daylong summit convening at the White House on Wednesday to announce the investment in early learning programs for infants, toddlers and preschoolers — especially those in lower-income communities. Nationwide, 28 percent of America's 4-year-olds were enrolled in a state-funded preschool program last year.

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"The evidence is overwhelming. Offering high-quality early-learning opportunities is one of the best ways to ensure a bright future for our youth and ultimately for our country," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Tuesday ahead of the summit. He cited statistics that show every dollar invested in early childhood education returns $7 or more because those kids often earn more as adults and require less spending on services such as remedial education.

The summit is bringing together business leaders, philanthropists, elected officials and others.

Eighteen states are being awarded a total of $250 million in Education Department grants to create or expand high-quality preschool programs. Those states are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia. In all, 36 states had applied for the grant money.

Separately, the Health and Human Services Department is sending up to $500 million to more than 40 states to expand Early Head Start and child care programs for youngsters from birth to 3 years old.

The White House said about 63,000 children would benefit from the federal dollars, which officials said already have been appropriated by Congress.

On top of the federal money is another $330 million from dozens of corporations, foundations and individuals. It's part of a new campaign called Invest in US.

The effort being led by the First Five Years Fund will challenge the private and public sectors to invest more in early childhood education. Among those already supporting the campaign with millions of dollars are The Walt Disney Co. with $55 million, the LEGO Foundation with $5 million, and the J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation with $25 million.

Obama pushed for an expansion of early education opportunities in his State of the Union address in 2013, and again in 2014 after his call got little traction in Congress.

During the summit, the First Five Years Fund planned to preview a series of 60-second public service announcements that focus on different aspects of early childhood education, from home-based child care providers to preschool teachers.

Produced to highlight the importance of educating children in their first five years, actors Jennifer Garner and Julianne Moore and singers John Legend and Shakira each narrate a spot, ending with the tagline "When we invest in them, we invest in us."

The announcements, previewed by The Associated Press before their release, will be available for viewing online at www.investinus.org .

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Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.