Fair start: Preschool extends opportunity to all children

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Most states are spending less on prekindergarten programs that prepare children for school. This trend must be reversed, or the nation will continue to see dramatic and growing gaps in the achievement of affluent, middle-class and poor students.

In the 2011-12 school year, state funding for prekindergarten programs endured its biggest one-year drop, $500 million nationwide, reports the National Institute for Early Education Research. Since children in low-income households already enter school a year or two behind their classmates, the funding cut means the preparation gap is bound to grow.

Pennsylvania, to its credit, increased pre-K spending per child by $115 to $5,474, well above the $3,841 national average.

Other states need to treat pre-K programs as the vital resources they are. President Barack Obama wants to expand these programs by helping states pay for public preschool for any 4-year-old whose family income is less than double the federal poverty rate. He would pay for it by raising the federal cigarette tax to $1.95 per pack.

As states cut funding, the president's plan offers the best hope of helping to maintain an American ideal -- equal access to education and opportunity.

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