NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — President Joe Biden took a whirlwind tour of Hampton Roads on Monday to promote a $1.8 trillion proposal that includes free universal pre-K and community college.
The proposal — dubbed the “American Families Plan” by the White House — effectively would create four additional years of free public education. The plan would make preschool free for all 3- and 4-year-olds and pay for at least two years of community college for all students.
In a speech in a classroom at Tidewater Community College’s campus in Portsmouth, Biden pitched it as an issue of international competition.
“The rest of the world has caught up to us,” Biden said. “They’re not waiting, and 12 years is no longer enough to compete in the world of the 21st century.”
The plan includes a long list of other family-related proposals, including a paid family federal and sick leave program, tax credits for childcare for younger children, increased financial aid for college students. During Monday’s visits, Biden and first lady Jill Biden mostly focused on the educational aspects.
The pandemic has brought unprecedented disruptions to both preschools and community colleges nationwide. Fall 2020 undergraduate enrollment fell 4.6% across the state’s community college system as students delayed or canceled college plans.
At one point last summer, the Virginia Department of Social Services reported that nearly 40% of the state’s child-care centers had closed. Although public preschool programs were among some of the first schools to reopen, in some cities that didn’t happen until well into the school year.
The White House has pointed toward research that shows long-term benefits for children who go to pre-K as part of the reason for the sweeping proposal.
“Children of that age who go to school are far more likely to graduate from high school and continue their education beyond that, rather than start off behind the eight ball,” Biden said.
Their first stop of the day was at Yorktown Elementary School, where the school was observing the first day of teacher appreciation week. The Bidens attended a meeting in the magnet school’s library to the upcoming plan that was closed to the press.