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Biden’s ‘preschool for all’ plan is in big trouble

President Biden’s “preschool for all” plan that was part of his “Build Back Better” initiative is in big trouble now that Sen. Joe Manchin has all but declared his opposition to the bill. The Democratic Senator recently announced that he would not be supporting the President’s ambitious bill that would see not only universal, free preschool for 3 and 4-year-olds, but an extension of the child tax credit payments, clean energy, and other healthcare initiatives.

Manchin shocked Democrats during an interview with Fox News. “I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can’t. I’ve tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there,” Manchin said. “This is a no.”

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Universal free preschool for all

As part of the Build Back Better Act, all eligible 3 and 4-year-olds would qualify for free preschool. Not only would this provide a huge financial relief for families who may not otherwise be able to afford to place their children in a paid preschool program, but this act would also focus on providing funding to eligible preschools and teachers to ensure they are being paid fairly.

This act had a budget of $109 million that would go primarily towards current eligible providers to help enroll the children and cover costs of ensuring their facility is prepared to serve them by covering personnel costs, professional development, supplies and materials, and more, with funding for six years. It would ensure that preschool was available to all children, including those with disabilities as well as assuring preschool staff salaries be equivalent to salaries of elementary school staff with similar credentials and experience.

Why preschool is important

In addition to providing an equal preschool experience for all children, it would also allow parents, particularly mothers, to re-enter the workforce earlier because they know they will have quality, reputable preschool options for their children. Any parent who has had to pay to put their child into preschool knows that finding affordable and available options for their child can often feel like a cross between The Hunger Games and the equivalent of paying college tuition. According to some of the White House’s top economic advisers helping to facilitate “the return of women, and particularly mothers, to the workforce is key to economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and faster growth for years to come,” according to Reuters.

Providing preschool for all children not only allows working parents to re-enter the workforce but also helps provide children with early learning opportunities, the ability to socialize with their peers, and time to get familiar with a school setting as they prepare for traditional learning.

Getty Images - Jonathan Kirn

Why it’s in danger

Manchin’s recent declaration that he will not vote in favor of the almost $2 trillion bill comes after months of negotiation with the White House. The West Virginia Senator’s main opposition comes from the hefty price tag attached to the bill, claiming the social programs, including the universal free preschool for all, weren’t affordable as well as objections to some of the climate initiatives. The bill requires the support of all Democrats in order to pass, and some suggest the Senator has simply given in to special interests groups.

What’s next?

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki stated that they aren’t giving up yet on earning Manchin’s support. “Just as Senator Manchin reversed his position on Build Back Better this morning, we will continue to press him to see if he will reverse his position yet again, to honor his prior commitments and be true to his word,” Psaki said in a statement, according to USA Today. Many Democrats are suggesting that a revision to the current bill may be required to get Manchin back on board and get the bill passed, but that’s unlikely to come before the end of the year as the President had hoped.

Manchin hinted in his interview that he may be in favor of a revised bill stating, “So if you’re going to do something and do it, pick what our prized priorities are … and you fund them for 10 years and you make sure they deliver the services for 10 years,” Manchin said. “It’s hard to deliver service for one year or three years or five years, and how are we going to continue them, unless it’s going to put a burden unless we have to go back and make adjustments? But we should be upfront and pick our priorities. That’s the difference,” NBC News reports.

The loss of the potential free universal preschool for all as well as the extended child tax credit benefits is definitely crushing losses for families who would truly benefit from these programs.

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