U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan appeared Tuesday before the House Education and Workforce Committee to promote what he called the “centerpiece” of the administration’s 2014 education budget proposal, the $75 billion plan to expand public preschool through a funding initiative that would encourage states to offer preschool to low-income and middle-class children.
“What is the smartest use of our education dollars?” Duncan asked rhetorically during his remarks to the committee. “The answer, I believe, is that high-quality early learning is the best education investment we can make in our children, our communities, and our country.”
While Duncan made a point of highlighting the bipartisan support for preschool by citing the Republican governors and voters who have supported expanded early education programs, the House Republicans on the committee were skeptical of the plan or questioned Duncan on other topics.
Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the committee chair, told Duncan he was concerned about starting a new program while other federal education programs, like the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, remained under-funded. He then focused on the similarities between the administration’s plan for reducing the cost of student loans and the Republican plan for doing so.
Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., challenged the research Duncan presented to support his argument that quality early childhood education provided a significant return on investment – that every dollar spent on the programs results in a long-term benefit to society in everything from increased individual earnings to savings in the criminal justice system. Roe noted that the Perry Preschool study often cited by preschool advocates as showing the benefits of the programs looked at an expensive, full-service model. Duncan responded that recent studies out of Boston and Tulsa, Okla., showed that similar gains could be made in broader, public programs with fewer bells and whistles.
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-NC, took issue with Duncan’s chart showing the the United States ranks 25th in spending on early education compared to other developed countries. Foxx read of the top three countries, Iceland, Denmark and the Russian Federation, and said she wasn’t sure these were countries we wanted to be compared to.
The other topics brought up during Duncan’s testimony included Pell grants, funding for STEM teachers, implementing the Common Core and rewriting and passing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Click here for a complete archive of the hearing, including video and transcripts of the prepared remarks.