Duncan to tout new preschool plan during NM visit

September 8, 2013 • State News

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Education Secretary Arne Duncan is expected to tout the Obama administration’s new preschool plan during his visit to New Mexico and other Southwestern states.

Duncan is scheduled to stop in Santa Fe on Monday as part of his back-to-school bus tour. One of his topics will be the president’s proposal to spend $75 billion over 10 years to provide preschool for all 4-year-olds in the U.S.

“We want to stop playing ‘catch up’ and give more kids educational opportunities,” Duncan told The New Mexican ( ) in a telephone interview.

The program would be funded from tax increases on tobacco products. Initially, the federal [auth] government would contribute more to cover the costs of the program. Over time, individual states would take on more of the funding.

New Mexico could receive about $24.5 million in its first year of Preschool for All if it chooses to participate. This funding, combined with a state match of $2.4 million, would serve nearly 3,000 students from low- and moderate-income families in the first year.

Duncan said the program isn’t a federal mandate but about “states investing in themselves. Whatever we can do to be a good partner, we want to do.”

New Mexico started its own voluntary pre-K program in 2005. Reports indicated that children participating in the program were gaining important skills, but currently only about 10,000 4-year-olds participate statewide.

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez last spring pledged $13.7 million for pre-K programs in school districts around the state. The state’s Children, Youth and Families Department invests about another $6.7 million.

Duncan said lack of affordable access to early childhood education accounts for New Mexico being near the bottom when it comes to measures of academic success, including graduation rates and test scores.

“There is clearly a long way to go in New Mexico,” he said.

Duncan is also expected to talk about graduation rates and making college affordable during his back-to-school bus tour. He has a series of stops scheduled in Arizona and California later this week.

“The stakes are so high today,” Duncan said. “When I was growing up on the south side of Chicago, if my friends dropped out of high school, they could still get a job in the stockyards and steel mills and maybe buy a house and earn a middle-class wage. Today, if you drop out of high school, you are basically condemned to poverty and social and economic failure. The world has changed faster than the quality of education and I worry desperately about the opportunity gap for young people.”

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