U.S. Education Secretary says Ky. needs Congress to raise tobacco tax to fund preschool expansion

06/20/2013 03:27 PM

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Thursday that Kentucky would benefit from President Barack Obama’s proposal to expand pre-kindergarden programs to ensure every 4-year old in the country is enrolled.

Duncan stopped in Louisville on his national tour to drum up public support for the proposal. Obama needs Congress to approve $75 billion in new federal tobacco taxes to fund the plan.

It would raise the tax from $1.01 to $1.95 per pack of cigarettes.

Duncan told officials that it was time for the U.S. to quit playing catch-up with the rest of the world in educating children and the key is to start the education process when they’re very young.

“A child from a disadvantaged family starts kindergarten at 5 years old in the fall, a year to 14 months behind,” Duncan said.

Attorney General Jack Conway, who is considering running for governor, appeared with Duncan at a roundtable discussion and press conference afterward.

Conway said failing to educate our children has drastic and costly implications for the commonwealth as most who fall short in education tend to wind up in Kentucky’s prisons.

Conway, who is the state’s top-ranking law enforcement official, recalled talking to the state commissioner of corrections in the 1990’s. The commissioner told him, “when we’re planning for prison beds in Kentucky, down the line, looking 20 years down the line, what you look at right now are third grade reading scores.”

Another “victim” of failing to educate the youth is the military.

Mike Davidson, a retired two-star general, said that educating today’s youth is important in the name of national security.

“Seventy-five percent of the 18-to-22-year olds in America are not eligible to join America’s Army and lack of academic accomplishment is the largest of those obstacles,” Davidson said.

Under Obama’s plan, the federal government would offer grants to states that choose to enroll 4-year-olds from low and moderate income families.

The plan calls for the federal share to gradually diminish from 91 percent initially to 25 percent after 10 years.

In addition to pre-school, Obama is seeking $15 billion for education programs for babies and toddlers.


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