Proposed Tobacco Tax Would Fund Early Education

Many children across the United States, predominantly those from low-income households, lack access to early education. Universal preschool is offered in some form in 39 states, but not every child is eligible due to deficient government funds.

According to the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP), 2.6 million American children will not receive a satisfactory education each year due to lack of resources. “The state of preschool in America is a state of emergency,” said author Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University in an April Huffington Post article.

As part of his 2014 budget plan, President Obama has proposed the “Preschool for All” plan, which has game-changing potential for early education, providing 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families with access to high-quality preschool and allowing parents in each state to enroll their child, regardless of income, in equal opportunity kindergarten—funded by an increased tax on tobacco.

“We will work with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America, and we’re going to pay for it by raising taxes on tobacco products that harm our young people,” Obama said.

Tobacco-Free Kids

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said this proposal would prevent nearly 1.7 million children from becoming addicted to smoking, as well as 626,000 premature deaths by reducing the number of youth smokers, and would save the nation $42 billion in associated health care costs.

“This would constitute the largest expansion of educational opportunity in the 21st century,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told reporters after the plan’s April 10 announcement. For the first two years of the proposed plan, participating states would pay only 9 percent of the costs and the federal government would pay 91 percent. This government contribution would decline gradually over the next decade. After 10 years, the federal government would shift to paying 25 percent, while the participating states would begin paying 75 percent.

According to the Center for American Progress, the tax would distribute $75 billion in new funding over the next 10 years. Cigarettes, currently taxed at about $1 a pack, would face additional taxes of $0.94, which also would raise $1.6 billion for the Early Head Start programs.

“I believe in providing all children with equal opportunities, which includes the ability to obtain a high-quality education,” said AFSA president Diann Woodard. “This proposal is a step in the right direction.”