WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton is proposing a $10 billion federal program aimed at providing voluntary pre-kindergarten for all 4-year-old children in America.
"I want every 4-year-old regardless of parental income to have access to high quality pre-K because it not only enhances their academic preparation, they stay in school longer, they have fewer behavioral problems," the New York senator and former first lady said.
Clinton said she would pay for the program by closing tax loopholes and eliminating Bush administration programs she disagrees with.
"There is a lot of evidence that this saves money over the long run and economists and others have validated what experts in early childhood education have told us for a long time," Clinton told NBC's "Today Show."
Clinton planned to present the proposal at an appearance Monday at North Beach Elementary School in Miami Beach, Fla.
Her campaign staff issued an outline of the plan in Washington.
It would provide federal funds to states that agree to establish a plan for making voluntary pre-kingergarten services universally available for all 4-year-olds.
They would be required to provide services at no cost to children from low-income families and those from "limited English homes."
The campaign said state spending on pre-kingergarten has increased by $1 billion in the last two years, yet the programs still serve less than 20 percent of 4-year-olds in the U.S.
Under the Clinton plan, states would match federal funds made available to them dollar-for-dollar and could use the assistance to expand their existing Head Start programs.
"The federal government will allocate $5 billion in the first year to states to establish and administer universal Pre-K," the campaign fact sheet said. "Over the next five years, the federal commitment will increase to $10 billion as states increase their commitment to Pre-K."
To qualify for federal funds, states would have to hire teachers with bachelor's degrees and specialized training in early childhood development and also meet other standards, such as low teacher-child ratios.
"If states have achieved these quality benchmarks, they will be able to use the funds flexibly to meet the needs of their local communities," the campaign said. "They could serve younger children; raise teachers' salaries; provide additional support and training for teachers or engage in other activities that expand and improve their pre-K programs."
The federal funds would be allocated through state governors.