NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Research shows that children who receive a high-quality early education are more likely to excel in the future, and that is why more support for these programs is needed, President Barack Obama said Thursday while visiting Nashville.
“High-quality education is one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life,” Obama said, while speaking to hundreds of students and faculty at McGavock Comprehensive High School.
For every $1 spent on early education, taxpayers save an average of $7 because there is less likelihood of teenage pregnancies, high school dropouts and incarcerations, Obama said.
“It’s a win-win situation for everyone,” Obama said, noting he believes “every young person (should have) access to a world-class education.”
Obama traveled to Nashville as part of a larger effort to push his plans for expanding early education programs. The visit was his final stop of a two-day tour across the nation following his State of the Union address Tuesday.
He said Nashville was chosen as a leg of the tour because of the educational reforms and academic improvements underway across Tennessee, which was one of the first states to receive Race to the Top funds in 2010.
Specifically, he praised the progress made at McGavock, which is one of the top schools in the state for improving student achievement and growth. And it is one of several schools that has combined college-preparatory courses and hands-on learning through partnerships with area businesses.
“I wanted to come here today because I heard great things about this high school and all of you,” he said. “If Nashville can bring schools, teachers, business and parents together for the sake of our young people, then other places can.”
He also noted that the types of programs implemented at McGavock give students a reason to be excited about education and their future.
“The idea is simple but powerful,” he said. “Young people will do better if they’re excited about learning.”
In the coming months, Obama said he plans to reach out to the business community and philanthropists to help provide additional funding for pre-kindergarten programs and ways to implement similar educational models in other schools throughout the country.
Although Obama is pushing for private investments in early education — any federally backed spending increases would have to go through Congress — state Democrats said they are already studying ways to expand funding in Tennessee.
Tennessee Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, who serves as the House Democratic leader, announced this week he plans to back legislation that would expand state funding for early education programs through an existing federal match.
The federal grant program matches state funding by a 9-1 ratio. So, if the state spent $6.4 million on early education programs, $64 million would be provided by the federal government to provide early education to children.
“The president understands the importance of investing in early childhood education through expanded pre-K (programs),” Fitzhugh said. "I would hope that my Republican colleagues will support our efforts to take pre-K statewide this year.”
Although education initiatives are likely to receive support from many Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly, selling anything under an Obama banner could become even more difficult in the coming months, especially with the midterm elections just around the corner.
In Tennessee, a majority of residents disapprove of Obama and his administration — meaning Republicans in the state might feel less inclined to join with Democrats on the issue, especially given the success of state-funded initiatives put forth by Gov. Bill Haslam in recent years.
According to a Middle Tennessee State University poll released Wednesday, 55 percent of residents disapprove of the job Obama is doing, while only 30 percent approve.
These figures are a few percentage points worse for Obama compared with a poll taken in March 2013, which found voters did not think their respective parties should compromise on policy issues.
MTSU Poll officials, however, said the difference is not statistically significant, so the decline since last year could be due to random sampling variation.
“Although the year-to-year differences are rarely significant, there is a clear trend in approval for President Obama going from bad to worse in Tennessee over time,” said Jason Reineke, the associate director of the MTSU Poll.
“In other words, while the number of Tennesseans who disapprove of the job Obama is doing has held fairly steady, approval has noticeably softened over the course of his presidency,” he said.
Based on the poll, 87 percent of Republicans said they disapprove, while 57 percent of self-identified independents also dislike how Obama is running the country.
Meanwhile, support for Obama has fallen by 11 percent since last year among Democrats, with only 66 percent saying they approve of the job he is doing.
Yet, Obama is still faring better than Congress.
Congress received an even worse evaluation from Tennesseans, with 72 percent saying they disapprove of how it is handling its job, according to the poll.
Tennesseans express an overwhelming disapproval for Congress, by a margin of more than 5-to-1 over those who say that they approve, Reineke said.
“Furthermore,” he said, “this disapproval exists across the board – among men and women, blacks and whites, Democrats, Republicans and independents – far more disapprove of how Congress is handling its duties than approve.”