It has been said that you can judge a government's priorities based on where it spends its money and with two recent announcements by President Obama, it is clear he is interested in prioritizing educational opportunity for all Americans. Last year, the President called for the creation of universal pre-kindergarten ("pre-k") and, earlier this month, for two years of free tuition at community college provided students maintain a certain grade point average.
While the cost of these programs is modest in the big scheme of the federal budget, their combined impact would be massive and long-lasting. For universal pre-k, it has been estimated that the 10 year cost would be $75 billion; for community college, $60 billion, for a grand total of $135 billion, or $13.5 billion per year. In a federal budget of more than $3.6 trillion, this amounts to .00375% or less than four one-thousandths of one percent. Put another way, each year of funding both of these programs would be slightly more than what was spent each month in Iraq ($10 billion).
The funny thing is, when it came time to pay the tab for Iraq, no one in Congress demanded a cost saving "offset" or tax increase, they simply borrowed the money - saddling us with precisely the type of debt Republicans claim to hate. Now that the President has put forward potentially game changing educational proposals, Republicans are suddenly crying poor. Putting aside the long-term return on investment we would get by better preparing young children for school and making college less expensive, why is it that when bombs are flying, we can pull out Uncle Sam's credit card, but when it comes to nation building at home, we cannot seem to find the money?