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Pre-K programs, community colleges foresee economic growth with Biden's education expansion plan

The Biden Administration wants to expand public education by offering two free years of pre-school and two free years of community college.

NORFOLK, Va. — President Joe Biden is looking to break down barriers by providing free education opportunities for people who otherwise wouldn't be able to get access to proper schooling. 

The administration's "Build Back Better" plan is a $1.8 trillion proposal under the American Families Plan. The president says it will invest in making college more affordable for low and middle-income students, including students at minority-serving institutions. It would include two free years of pre-school to advance early education and then offer two free years of community college. 

Tidewater Community College in Norfolk says it knows how many roadblocks people face to get into college.

"Don't have anywhere to take your children? It's really hard to be able to go get an education," said TCC spokeswoman, Naima Ford. "Technology problems, don't have a laptop, don't have WiFi; those are things that are barriers to getting education."  

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Ford says there is a great need for skilled workers in the Hampton Roads region. She says this change in educational access could pave the way to get more people back into the workforce following the pandemic.

"We want to make sure we can get people trained in these jobs...a lot of them are in-demand jobs," said Ford.

Executive Director of the Mile High Kids program, Cardell Patillo, sees the same opportunities for pre-school programs in the area. He says this investment could also create a boost in the local economy.

"It's not science. Virginia understands that if you move education forward, it moves the workforce forward, and the economy grows," said Patillo. "We want to say it's all for the children, but it's really also help build the economy back up."

Patillo, who is also the Portsmouth Public Schools board chairman, says there is a great need to get more children intro pre-school programs, but they often come up short when it comes to providing space and resources. He says a big reason is the lack of resources to provide an education for the number of children. 

"After we fill 225 slots, we still have a couple hundred on the waiting list that need pre-school services," explained Patillo.

If the plan receives approval, the administration says families earning less than $125,000 a year would be eligible to apply for the free community college tuition.