LAWRENCE — With all the ease of a native son, President Barack Obama felt right at home Thursday morning on the University of Kansas campus.
“I’m a Kansas guy,” Obama enthused, to which the crowd of more than 7,100 roared in return.
Obama noted his “deep roots.” His mother hailed from Wichita, his maternal grandmother and grandfather from Augusta and El Dorado, respectively.
The president, a Democrat, acknowledged those ties did little to help sway Kansans to endorse him in his two presidential races.
“I’m 0-for-2 here,” he said, “far short of Coach Bill Self’s 10-0 Big 12 conference record” with KU’s basketball team, with which he met briefly before his 11:30 a.m. speech on campus.
It’s been more than 100 years, since 1911, that a sitting president has visited KU.
Obama’s enthusiasm, candor and warmth flooded the stage as he talked about his initiative to help middle class Americans, specifically with the costs of child care.
“I don’t want anyone being day care poor,” he said, noting for many young couples day care costs take up a good chunk of their paychecks.
The majority of U.S. families today do not have stay-at-home parents to tend to their children. About 63 percent of families with children have either both parents working or are single-parent households.
Obama has asked Congress to give tax relief for young families with children up to age 5 with a $3,000 per child credit — tripling the current rate — and expand day care programs.
“Studies show the benefits of early childhood education last a lifetime,” Obama said. Those who get a head start in their education are more likely to finish school, avoid trouble with the law, and secure better jobs, Obama said.
Both good child care and early education should not be a “nice-to-have” but a “must-have” for the U.S. economy, he said.
To help illustrate the plight of today’s young parents, Alyssa Cole, a senior at KU majoring in history, gave the introduction to President Obama Friday morning. Cole is a single mother of three who in 2013 wrote to the president explaining her challenges as single parent who felt forced to choose between working full time, raising her children, or pursuing an education.
“In the United States, we should have the opportunity to pursue a career and an education while at the same time building quality lives for ourselves and our children,” Cole said.
For those who live below the poverty line, more than 30 percent of their income goes to day care expenses.
IT’S NOT as if the United States has not addressed the issue before, Obama said. During World War II, Congress passed the Lanham Act that provided funds for child care facilities for the women who worked in factories while their husbands fought the war.
Obama told of his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, who worked in a Wichita bomber assembly plant, while her husband, Stan, fought in Europe. Their daughter, Ann, was enrolled in such a child care center as Obama explained.
After the War ended, Congress ceased funding the universal child care centers, “even though research showed it was good for the children and the parents,” Obama said, “And much of the rest of the world followed our example.”
Today, most European countries provide universal child care and early childhood education.
“If we knew how to do this in 1943-44 — and here we are in 2015 — what’s the holdup?” Obama asked rhetorically.
“It is time we stopped treating child care as a side issue or a ‘women’s issue,’” he said. “This is a family issue and an economic priority for all of us.”