After a brief visit to College Heights Early Learning Center, President Barack Obama spoke to Decatur residents about his plans to implement a universal pre-K program nationwide.
During his Feb. 12 State of the Union address, Obama said fewer than three in 10 4-year-olds have access to a high-quality preschool program.
“For the poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives,” Obama said.
Obama told residents that education needs to start at the earliest possible age and City Schools of Decatur had done just that.
“The kids that I saw today, they’re some of the lucky ones,” Obama said. “If you’re looking for a good bang for your educational buck this is it, right here.”
College Heights, which serves pupils ages 6 weeks to 4 years old, places a strong emphasis on early learning. During his brief visit, Obama said he learned about the curriculum, which consisted of learning numbers, being taught how to ask and answer critical questions and how to work well with others.
“That whole ‘playing well with others’ thing is a trait we can use in Washington,” Obama said. “Maybe we could bring the teachers up…[and] every once in a while have some quiet time.”
City Schools of Decatur Associate Superintendent Thomas Van Soelen said approximately 25 percent of College Heights’ 340 students receive free or reduced lunches. However, a decade ago that number was closer to 70 percent.
Although Georgia maintains a low nationwide education rating, many of the approximately 3,800 pre-K classrooms in the state are finding unique ways to educate young children. Currently, there are 84,000 pupils enrolled in Georgia’s pre-K program.
Obama said College Heights is unique because each class combines children from different socioeconomic backgrounds and children with disabilities.
“You’re not seeing some of that stratification that leads to these major achievement gaps,” Obama said. “Let’s make it a national priority.”
The president said maintaining a high-quality early childhood education program would help improve graduation rates, reduce teenage pregnancy and strengthen the economy.
Additionally, Obama echoed remarks he made in his State of the Union speech about the importance of investing in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
“Our commitment to our kids’ education has to continue throughout their academic lives and equip them with the tools they need to compete in the future,” Obama said. “That’s why we’re working to train 100,000 new STEM teachers.”
Although he said the country has made great strides in making higher education accessible for more Americans, Obama urged colleges to keep costs down or their federal funding could suffer.
“Taxpayers can’t keep on subsidizing ever-escalating price tags for higher education,” Obama said. “Once our kids graduate from high school, we need to make sure that skyrocketing costs don’t push middle-class families out or saddle them with debt.”
Obama also told Congress to change the Higher Education Act so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive federal aid.
Greg White, director of the Decatur Active Living Department, said having the president visit was a wonderful opportunity for the city, which he described as “very progressive.”
“It means a lot,” White said. “We’ve always maintained the school system really well. We need to think about how to make things better for young people education-wise so they can become productive citizens¾that’s what the government is all about.”
Obama applauded Georgia for making significant progress on its pre-K program and said that the state’s efforts will ensure its children will grow up with the skills they needs in the workplace and as citizens.
“In the end, that’s what this is all about, giving our kids the best possible shot at life,” Obama said.