Pushing Obama’s universal preschool plan


U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited a San Francisco preschool today to tout a proposal by President Barack Obama to provide universal access to preschool for children in low- and moderate-income families.

Duncan visited the Cross Cultural Family Center on Turk Street in the city’s Tenderloin neighborhood this afternoon to tour the school and hold a roundtable discussion with city and school officials, parents and other stakeholders.

San Francisco already has universal access to preschool, funded by a 2004 ballot measure approved by the city’s voters.

“We didn’t come here by accident,” Duncan said. “This community has put a stake in the ground and said it’s important to get our babies off to a great start.”

San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim, whose district includes the Tenderloin, said the neighborhood is among the city’s poorest and also the most diverse, which makes preschool there even more important for low-income students and those who speak English as a second language.

“The achievement gap begins before our children enter kindergarten,” Kim said.

Supervisor Norman Yee, also a former member of the San Francisco Unified School District’s board of education, added that continuity is key between preschool and the K-12 education system.

Duncan said the national program to provide universal access to preschool would be fully funded by a tobacco tax, but has to be approved by Congress, which recently let sequestration cuts go into effect, taking funding away from various education programs.

“I wish I had some way to fix it,” Duncan said. “Congress’ dysfunction is a manmade mess.”

He said the budget cuts have caused reduced operating hours at facilities like Head Start centers that provide learning to children under 5 years old.

Duncan said, “How is that good for children, or for their parents who are trying to work?”

He said, “I’m convinced we have to educate our way to a better economy … giving less opportunities for children, particularly poor children, to learn just makes no sense to me whatsoever.”

Duncan had another event planned in San Francisco today, a 3:45 p.m. keynote address at the American Educational Research Association’s annual meeting at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square hotel.

His Bay Area tour will continue on Wednesday with three events, starting in the South Bay with a 9 a.m. town hall meeting at Fremont High School in Sunnyvale, where he will be joined by U.S. Rep. Mike Honda.

The secretary will then make a speech at the annual summit of the NewSchools Venture Fund at noon at the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront in Burlingame, and will end his trip with a 3 p.m. visit to the nonprofit 826 Valencia in San Francisco.

(Copyright 2013 Bay City News ).  All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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