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Arne Duncan talks pre-k

arneALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — This morning, the Education Writers Association convened a web panel (notice the word I’m not using because it’s ridiculous) about early childhood education. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been talking about this a lot lately, ever since President Barack Obama rolled out a proposal during the State of the Union to invest $75 billion over ten years into partnerships with states to expand preschool access. I’ve blogged about local support for the proposal here.

It was an interesting and informative panel, if you like that kind of thing. It will be interesting to see whether Obama’s proposal actually gets any traction in Congress. He proposes to pay for the initiative with a new tobacco tax, which has gotten a mixed reception in different parts of the country.

There were two local tie-ins worth mentioning. At one point, Duncan was asked about bipartisan support for beefing up early childhood education. He acknowledged “gridlock” and “dysfunction” in Congress, but focused on governors from both parties who are investing in preschool. He included New Mexico in a list of states with Republican governors who are taking preschool seriously. That was interesting to me, because Governor Susana Martinez has indeed increased preschool spending, but has also opposed efforts to tap the state’s land grant permanent fund for early childhood education. My colleague Jim Monteleone lays out the issue expertly here.

The other piece that could be of local interest is a reporter’s question about how Hispanic families can be encouraged to take advantage of preschool, even if it is affordable and available. Nationwide, Hispanic families enroll in preschool at lower rates than other groups. Duncan answered with an emphasis on outreach. He said when he was pushing preschool in Chicago, outreach efforts involved “knocking on doors, going to churches,” and adding an evening shift of preschool from about 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., which was popular with families with non-traditional work schedules.

“Where you create a high-quality program, where you have outreach, people will more than take advantage of the opportunity,” Duncan said.

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