The Obama administration released its recommendations for the 2014 fiscal budget on Wednesday, proposing a number of investments aimed to improve education on all levels — from K-12 to higher education.

The administration’s includes budget plans to invest $71 billion in discretionary funding for the U.S. Department of Education — an increase of 4.5 percent over the 2013 pre-sequester investment — according to a release.

“(President Obama) fundamentally knows that the best way to build and support a thriving middle class is through world-class education,” Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, said in a conference call.

Duncan said the focus of the president’s budget is on providing investments toward early education for four-year-olds from low and moderate-income families. Obama’s Preschool for All initiative plans to strengthen the education process “from cradle to career.”

“President Obama also understands that there is an opportunity gap separating far too many of American children and limits their life chances often to kids before they even enter school, and that’s why the core part of our budget is to restore $75 billion in investments to fully offset mandatory funds over to expand learning opportunities for all 4 year olds of all income families,” Duncan added.

The president’s plan focuses on reforming the K-12 agenda by investing in teachers and school turnaround efforts, keeping schools and communities safe from gun violence, increasing career readiness in high school and improving affordability of higher education.

Duncan said studies have determined that students with limited education before preschool are less prepared for success, an education gap that could hinder them for the rest of their lives.

“Dramatically expanding access to high-quality early education will not only help to clog (the achievement) gap by providing America’s youngest learners with a strong start, it will also pay huge dividends down the road in higher graduation rates, increased employment, better jobs at higher salaries, greater cash revenue, and lower crime and reliance on public assistance,” Duncan said.

The president plans to create “ladders of opportunity” to the middle class through the Promise Neighborhoods program and to invest in low-income communities.

Duncan said Obama’s budget shows that education is a “cross-cutting” issue, as it’s spread “all the way through the administration.” Obama will be working to reform Head Start, a national program that promotes school readiness by enhancing the social and cognitive development of children.

The budget also plans to raise all $74 million for preschool reform by imposing a 94-cent tax on tobacco, Duncan said.

“The projection is that 233,000 fewer youths will begin smoking as a result of the tax,” Duncan said. “Obviously, this is a huge reduction of health-care costs. It has a benefit to health and benefit educationally, and we think it’s the right thing to do.”

Duncan said the main higher-education priorities are to make schools and communities safer and make college more affordable for students and to improve opportunities for students in disadvantaged communities.

“We’re working to double work-studies opportunities to make college more affordable,” Duncan said. “In addition, we have a focus on increasing high-school graduation rates by helping kids take the next step going into higher education. We want to invest more in dual-enrollment programs which is great not just for high-achieving, but for at-risk students who as juniors and sophomores can start to take college classes and start to believe that they can be a part of that world.”

The president plans to address affordability by investing $1 billion in Race to the Top: College Affordability and Completion, creating change in each state’s higher-education practices. To encourage students, $260 million will be used for a First in the World fund, which would create competitive awards for innovation in higher education.

The plan also includes expanding and funding financial aid programs and the Pay As You Earn repayment option — a program that ensures loan payments for students who don’t exceed 10 percent of their discretionary income.

“Today, millions of Americans have a better chance of getting a job, owning their own home and supporting their family,” Duncan said. “We know we have a long way to go, but if we want to continue to make progress we have to drive and continue improvement through k-12 reform and we must invest in human capital, in our great futures and leaders, which we propose to do in this budget.”

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