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Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro participates in the She the People Presidential Forum in Houston, Texas, o...

Universal pre-K is at the center of Julián Castro’s education plan

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro on Monday unveiled an education plan that joins other 2020 candidates in calling for tuition-free higher education, universal prekindergarten and raising teacher pay.

The rollout follows the former Obama Cabinet member’s immigration plan that was more detailed than many of his rivals in the sprawling Democratic field. This time, Castro is getting behind education reforms that other candidates have also embraced ahead of the first debates in June that he believes will offer his slow-building campaign a new chance to stand out.

Expanding prekindergarten was arguably Castro’s signature mark during his five years as mayor of San Antonio, where he convinced voters to fund early education programs through part of the city’s sales tax. It was not the universal prekindergarten that Castro is now proposing for children as young as three.

READ MORE: What does Julián Castro believe? Where the candidate stands on 8 issues

Castro has also come around to eliminating tuition at public colleges. He had previously stopped short of championing the idea during his campaign launch in January, instead proposing to make the first two years of college “affordable” and accessible.

“Our antiquated commitment to a K-12 system that starts some children ahead of others, and prevents many from continuing their education after high school has left our students and nation at a disadvantage,” Castro said in rolling out his education plan.

He also called for expanding student loan forgiveness and boosting teacher pay by up to $10,000 through a federal tax credit.

Other candidates in the sprawling Democratic field are also embracing tuition-free higher education and reforming the nation’s student loan programs. Last month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts proposed eliminating existing student debt altogether for millions of Americans.