(Bloomberg) -- Bernie Sanders on Monday unveiled a $1.5 trillion proposal for free universal child care and pre-kindergarten programs that would be funded through a tax on "extreme wealth."
The idea of universal child care has been a staple of the Vermont senator's stump speech, but the proposal fleshes out the details of how it would be implemented and paid for. Under his plan, all children from infancy would have access to full-day, full-week, high-quality child care and would enter pre-kindergarten beginning at 3 years old, "regardless of income."
"We know that the first four years of a child's life are the most important years of human development, so it is unconscionable that in the wealthiest country in the world, we do not properly invest in early childhood education," Sanders said in a statement.
The program, which will cost $1.5 trillion over 10 years, will be funded with a tax on "the extreme wealth of the top 0.1%," according to the campaign. It adds to a list of expansive policy proposals from Sanders that includes his centerpiece Medicare for All, which has a price tag of $30 trillion.
Most of the other Democratic candidates favor creating affordable universal child care and pre-kindergarten programs, but only Sanders, Joe Biden and Tom Steyer propose making them cost-free for everyone. Sanders' progressive rival Elizabeth Warren has offered a $700 billion plan that would make the services free only for low-income families, while others would be charged according to their ability to pay.
Under Sanders' plan, programs would run for at least 10 hours a day and "operate at times to serve parents who work non-traditional hours."
In addition to promising access, Sanders' proposal calls for increasing the number and pay of child care workers. There are 1.3 million child care workers in the U.S. who on average make $11 an hour, according to the campaign; Sanders calls for doubling the number of workers and increase pay to "a living wage," and compensating caretakers according to their experience and training. Lead teachers will be paid the same salary as kindergarten teachers are.
Care givers will be required to have at a minimum a Child Development Associates credential. Assistant teachers must have an associate's degree in early childhood education or child development and all lead preschool teachers will be required to have a bachelor's degree in the subject. They are promised access to ongoing mentoring, coaching and professional development and support to make sure caretakers and teachers "reflect the cultural, linguistic, racial and ethnic diversity of the communities they serve."
At a rally in Houston, Texas, on Sunday, Sanders was met with cheers from the more than 6,000 people in the University of Houston's Fertitta Center, when he brought up the plan.
"Everybody knows the future is with our kids," Sanders said. "And millions of families cannot find high-quality, affordable child care. Together we change that."
(Disclaimer: Michael Bloomberg is also seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. He is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)
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