Securing bipartisan support for the president’s $75 billion proposal to expand public preschool continues to be a challenge, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Wednesday on a media panel on early childhood education moderated by EdSource Today reporter Lillian Mongeau.

Duncan said he is meeting with Republican lawmakers as well as Republican governors and local school boards in an effort to convince conservatives that spending on the $75 billion plan is an investment that can bring long-term societal benefits. The program, paid in part through an increase on the federal tobacco tax, would allow states to provide more preschool options for low-income families.

“There are many Republican members in the House and Senate who understand that there are tremendous dividends here,” Duncan said. “I hope some of them will have the courage to speak publicly on it.”

Duncan said he was open to methods of paying for the plan other than the proposed hike in the national tobacco tax, but that it was no good if the investment wasn’t enough to make a big change. “We’re either going to take on these gaps or we’re going to perpetuate them, Duncan said. “You can’t reach the number we’re trying to reach without a significant investment.

The panel also featured Bobby Cagle, the early education commissioner in Georgia, which offers universal preschool for 4-year-olds, and Laura Bornfreund, a senior policy analyst with the New America Foundation’s Early Education Initiative.

Listen to the webinar or read Education Week’s summary of the panel.

Lillian Mongeau covers early childhood education. Contact her or follow her @lrmongeau.

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