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Obama touts preschools in Georgia: 'This isn't baby-sitting'

By Tom Cohen, CNN
February 14, 2013 -- Updated 2246 GMT (0646 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: "This works. We know it works," Obama says at preschool near Atlanta
  • The president called for expanded early education in his State of the Union address
  • It is the second of three straight days of events outside Washington to tout his proposals
  • Obama and Republicans are in a fierce debate over government spending

(CNN) -- For a second straight day, President Barack Obama touted proposals from his State of the Union address at a campaign-style event outside of Washington, this time visiting a Georgia preschool where youngsters on a winter break showed up to mimic a regular day.

Obama's visit to the College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center, in the city of Decatur just outside Atlanta, followed his call in Tuesday night's speech to Congress for investments in high-quality early childhood education programs.

The president spent time in a classroom where he hugged some students -- who told him they saw him on television -- and praised the teachers he said were giving their students a boost into the educational system.

"This isn't baby-sitting," he said. Children who take prekindergarten classes are more likely to read at their grade level, graduate from high school and hold a job down the road -- but fewer than 30% of 4-year-olds are enrolled in prekindergarten programs like those at College Heights, he said.

"Hope is found in what works. This works. We know it works," he said. "If you are looking for a good bang for your educational buck, this is it right here. That's why, even in times of tight budgets, states like Georgia and Oklahoma have worked to make a preschool slot available for nearly every parent who is looking for one for their child."

In the classroom, Obama sat in a small chair and helped children with tablet blocks at one table. He then moved to another to engage in a brief game of I Spy, peering at little faces through a magnifying glass.

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And he took a moment to warn the parents of the young children that "they grow up to be, like, 5'10" -- and even if they're still nice to you, they basically don't have a lot of time for you during the weekends."

"They have sleepovers and dates," he said to laughter. "So all that early investment just leads them to go away."

Friday, he will head to Chicago to continue his campaign for the main proposals of the State of the Union address, which emphasized themes of his re-election campaign last year, including equal opportunity and middle-class growth.

On Wednesday, Obama toured an auto parts plant in Asheville, North Carolina, and urged Congress to support the jobs agenda in his address the night before. In Chicago, he'll speak about the economy and the city's rampant gun violence.

Obama and congressional Democrats are locked in a fierce political debate with Republicans over government spending and federal deficits, with a showdown pending on mandatory spending cuts set to take effect March 1.

In his State of the Union address and again Thursday, Obama said making an early commitment to education saves money later for local governments and boosts graduation rates.

He also spotlighted studies showing children who attend preschool have lower teen pregnancy rates and are less prone to engage in violent crime.

The Thursday stop required some scheduling changes at the school, which had yet to fully return from a winter holiday.

Parents with children enrolled there received an e-mail this week with the offer of a "one-day experience" Thursday for the president's visit.

"This day would resemble a normal school day: same bus routes and times, same school beginning and end times, regular instructional day with the same staff, and breakfast and lunch offerings," the school's principal, Suzanne Kennedy, wrote. "President Obama's visit promises to be an amazing opportunity for our students to expand their worlds and for Decatur to celebrate its exemplary teaching and learning."

The White House did not immediately respond to an inquiry for an explanation on the timing of the visit.

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