Obama Unveils $1B Boost for Preschools, Including $55 Million From Disney

Disney, LEGO among private companies donating millions to pre-K programs.

ByABC News
December 10, 2014, 6:30 AM

— -- It's a year-end present for tens of thousands of kids and early childhood education programs.

President Obama today is set to unveil a $1 billion package of new public and private funding for U.S. preschool programs during a White House summit to promote one of his favored domestic initiatives.

The Walt Disney Co., the parent company of ABC News, has contributed $55 million in “Disney Imagicademy” apps and books to help bolster pre-kindergarten reading programs, the company said.

The administration is also launching a new campaign, “Invest in US,” to enhance private investment in the programs, officials said. A number of celebrities, including Shakira, Jennifer Garner and John Legend, will lend their voices to a promotional campaign.

"What we're demonstrating here is how important this is, that we're making progress and doing it in a bipartisan way," said Obama domestic policy adviser Cecilia Munoz.

Three quarters of the funds Obama will announce come from existing government grant programs, according to the White House. Nearly four dozen private sector companies, including LEGO and PVH Corp., which owns clothing lines Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, have pledged donations of more than $300 million combined.

The Education Department projects the new federal grants will allow 63,000 additional American children access to early childhood education programs next year.

Only three in 10 American 4-year-olds currently have access to state-funded preschool programs, the agency said.

"We're seeing just tremendous interest from Republican and Democratic governors across the nation" to expanding the grant programs, said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. "What still haunts me is the unmet need in state after state after state. ... There are so many 3- and 4-year-olds that still don’t have access and we know the consequences long-term when we fail to prepare them for kindergarten."

The summit is part of a domestic-agenda blitz launched by the White House following Democrats’ bruising losses in the midterm elections. Since Nov. 5, Obama has taken executive action on immigration, unveiled stringent new rules for ozone pollution, launched a task force on race and justice, and hosted summits on foster children and Native Americans.

As he enters the final two years of his presidency, Obama intends to lean heavily on his so-called “convening power” to foster civic dialogue and encourage progress in areas where Congress has failed to act, administration officials said.

The White House remains hopeful that early childhood education can be an issue of common ground with a Republican-controlled Congress that convenes in January.

“We all share the same aspirations for our young people. And I was encouraged that this year Republicans agreed to investments that expanded early childhood education,” Obama said in a Nov. 5 news conference after the midterm elections. “I think we've got a chance to do more on that front.”

There is strong public support for increased federal funding for preschool programs. Seventy percent of Americans, in a September Gallup poll, said they back efforts to expand publicly-funded pre-K education to every American. Republicans are less enthusiastic, however, with 53 percent supporting such an effort compared to 87 percent of Democrats.