Ross unveiled details of his approximately $37 million per year increase, once fully implemented, at the Fair Park Early Childhood Center in Little Rock.
"I want our students to start sooner and finish stronger," Ross says. "I want every high school student to graduate both college and career ready. Pre-kindergarten is the critical first step to how we achieve all this."
Ross proposes expanding access to Arkansas Better Chance program for families making less than 300% of the federal poverty level, or $59,370 per year.
The former congressman estimates the cost of expanding pre-k access to families between 200% and 300% of the poverty level will cost the state $30 million once implemented.
Ross calls pre-k expansion his "big ticket" item of his education platform. The leading Democrat candidate also says his campaign focuses on economic development and targeted tax cuts.
"We can do all these things as we have revenue growth," Ross says. "It's about priorities. And I think what's important for these campaigns for all the candidates is to let the people of this state where their priorities lie."
Republican challengers had varying degrees of criticism for the plan Wednesday.
Asa Hutchinson said in a statement he also supports expanded pre-k, but calls the Ross plan a "classic example of over promising in an election year and it is irresponsible."
"Governor (Mike) Beebe has not been able to fully fund the current program and we should not be promising a bigger government program when we haven't met our current needs," Hutchinson said in a statement.
Businessman Curtis Coleman, also seeking the GOP nomination in May, called the plan "laudable but not supported by real-world experience."
"Arkansas is desperate for a skilled labor force, and we won’t be able to fully revive our economy and produce the kind of good-paying jobs Arkansans are looking for until we restore vocational training to our education priorities," Coleman said in a statement Wednesday.
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