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Big Idea: Universal Pre-K to Teach Children and Create Jobs

If we made the effort to reach the majority of toddlers who don't have access to early education, we'd reap benefits across the board.

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The snarky back-and-forth of the 2012 presidential campaign may be entertaining, but this is our once-every-four-years chance to mix it up over the big challenges the United States is facing. We're launching the Campaign for Big Ideas to make the run for the White House smarter, bolder, and a lot more ambitious.

It might surprise you to learn that only 58 percent of 3-to-5-year-old Americans are enrolled in any type of organized child care or early education program. The number is even lower—just 51 percent—among poor children. And less than a quarter of American kids attend preschools led by certified teachers; children in less school-like child care settings, like day care centers or in-home care, are often looked after by caretakers earning an average of less than $10 per hour, most of whom have no formal training in education or child development. Research shows that over the past two decades, the education level and salary of early child care workers have consistently declined.

Meanwhile, in cities like New York and San Francisco, the children of the elite vie for seats in top private preschools, which charge as much tuition as private colleges and employ teachers who hold college and graduate degrees.

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