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Fact check: Sen. Marsha Blackburn falsely claims Biden would force people to attend pre-K and two years of college
By Daniel Dale
Updated 8:09 PM ET, Thu April 29, 2021
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Biden to introduce 'American Families Plan,' including funding for paid family leave, elder care, & funding for universal pre-k 04:53
Washington (CNN)Republican Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn tried Wednesday to portray President Joe Biden's new $1.8 trillion American Families Plan proposal as an "anti-family" initiative that would reduce Americans' control over their own lives.
"Three-year-old pre-K: they're going to mandate this. Two years of college whether you like it or not. These are the things that take away choices from the American people," Blackburn said in an interview on Fox Business.
Blackburn's allegations came the same week that some of her Republican colleagues falsely alleged that Biden is trying to force Americans to sharply reduce their consumption of red meat.
Like those claims about Biden and meat, Blackburn's claims about Biden and education were thoroughly inaccurate.
Facts First: As a Blackburn spokesman acknowledged to CNN on Thursday, it's not true that Biden is planning to "mandate" pre-kindergarten or to force people to attend two years of college whether they "like it or not." While Biden proposed this week to spend $200 billion to offer free, "universal" pre-K for 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds, no child would be required to attend pre-K, the White House says. Similarly, while Biden has proposed to spend $109 billion to allow all Americans and undocumented "DREAMers" to attend two years of community college for free, nobody would be required to enroll.
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"As happens on live TV, she misspoke," Blackburn spokesman Spencer Hurwitz said in an email to CNN on Thursday.
On Wednesday, however, Blackburn's office had tweeted out the clip of the interview in which she made the false claims -- and included a caption that claimed the Biden plan "forces you to rely on the federal government to organize your life."
There is no state or community in the United States that makes either pre-K or college mandatory, two experts -- Steven Barnett, senior co-director of Rutgers University's National Institute for Early Education Research, and Kevin Carey, vice president of education policy at the think tank New America -- told CNN on Thursday.
"All universal pre-K programs are voluntary," Barnett said in an email. And Barnett noted that "the federal government does not mandate schooling at any age." Age requirements are set by states.
Blackburn's conservative state of Tennessee already operates a popular program, launched by a Republican governor, that provides two years of tuition-free community college or technical school to state residents who choose to attend.
"Nobody is mandating college. College is for adults who are free to do as they like," Carey said in an email.
Partnership with states
You can click here to read about additional provisions of Biden's American Families Plan, which requires approval from Congress.
A policy document released by the White House says the proposed $200 billion universal pre-K program would be operated through a partnership with states; according to a senior administration official, states would be required to foot about 50% of the cost when the program is fully up and running.
Another White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told CNN on Thursday that no state would have to participate. The official said that in states that chose not to sign up, the White House would seek to partner directly with interested local communities.
Under Biden's community college proposal, the federal government would cover about 75% of the average tuition cost in each state when the program was fully implemented, with states picking up the rest, a senior administration official said earlier in the week. States would be expected to maintain their current contributions to their higher education systems.
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