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Cigarettes and Preschoolers Don’t Go Together
Scott W. Drenkard & Noah Glyn
During his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama proposed a plan to implement a universal
preschool program. Although the proposal has not been prominently featured in the news since the speech,
Education Secretary Arne Duncan has been pressing Republican legislators to support the president’s plan,
which would increase cigarette taxes to $1.95 a pack to finance universal preschool.1
The administration’s goal is to “ensure that more children and families have access to high-quality early
learning and development programs.”2 They point out that the United States is 28th in the world in
enrollment rates for four-year-olds and 25th in public spending on early education as a percentage of GDP.
While these statistics demonstrate that there is room for improvement, the administration’s preferred
method of financing the program is deeply flawed in the long run, as states will be forced to shoulder an
increasing share of the costs of the program as time goes on, and cigarette tax revenue is diminishing over
time as people turn away from smoking.
Putting the States on the Hook
To send every four-year-old to preschool, the administration wants to dedicate $75 billion over ten years in
direct spending plus an additional $750 million in discretionary grants to states to help implement the plan.
Total federal spending for the program in FY 2014 would be $1.3 billion, but it would grow to nearly $11
billion by FY 2020. (See Figure 1.)
1 Chris Burritt & Jonathan Salant, Obama Tobacco-Tax for Pre-Kindergarten Draws Opposition, BLOOMBERG, Apr. 6, 2013,
2 U.S. Department of Education & U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Federal Investments in Early Learning and