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Hillary Clinton pushes Hispanic early-education plan

Former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attends a roundtable discussion held by Univision between parents of elementary school children and politicians regarding language learning and preschool on Feb. 4, 2014 in New York City. Credit: Getty Images / Andrew Burton

Hillary Rodham Clinton Tuesday kicked off a campaign to encourage Hispanic families to start reading, talking to and serenading their children while still in the cradle because "you're literally building brain cells when you talk to your child."

Speaking at a Head Start program in East Harlem, the former secretary of state and potential 2016 presidential candidate helped debut a series of Spanish-language television commercials to help better prepare Hispanic children for school.

"Every child -- every single child in our country -- deserves to have a fair chance to live up to his or her God-given potential," she said.

The ads, coupled with programming on Spanish-language media owned by Univisión, are the public face of the "Too Small to Fail" effort being promoted by Clinton's family foundation -- the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation -- and several others.

Clinton recalled how as a young mom, she'd sit in a rocking chair in Little Rock, Ark., reading and singing to Chelsea as a toddler.

"I even sang to her until she developed an ear," Clinton quipped. At 16 months, Clinton said, Chelsea put her finger on her mom's lips and said: " 'No sing, Mommy.' "

Clinton was joined at the program launch by Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city's first lady, Chirlane McCray. They read to children and met with Hispanic parents about the campaign.

De Blasio credited Clinton with casting the spotlight on early-childhood education in her White House days as first lady -- a cause de Blasio has himself championed in calling for a tax hike on the rich to fund universal prekindergarten and after-school programs.

Earlier in the day, de Blasio appointed Richard Buery as his deputy mayor for strategic policy initiatives. Buery's duties will include helping shepherd de Blasio's pre-K plan.

"We are having this discussion today," de Blasio said, "because of the things Hillary Rodham Clinton did decades ago when no one was talking about" early childhood education. He added: "Let's begin at the beginning and remember who helped to get this discussion going."

De Blasio is lobbying Albany to approve a 0.5 percent tax increase in the city on income over $500,000 to fund his proposal. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo also is pushing a pre-K plan, but wants to use existing state coffers instead. Clinton avoided taking sides in that dispute.

"It is exciting to see everybody from the mayor to Governor Cuomo, President Obama and literally people across the country taking on this important issue," she said.

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