COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Ohio State University and the city of Columbus are leading a partnership that will provide free tuition to 100 early childhood teachers.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Ohio State University and the city of Columbus are leading a partnership that will provide free tuition to 100 early childhood teachers.

Ohio State President Michael Drake and Mayor Andrew Ginther were joined by officials of President Barack Obama's administration and others in announcing the $3.9 million scholarship pipeline Thursday at a learning center on the city's economically challenged south side.

The scholarship program will be part of Ohio State's Early Head Start Partnership that provides education, health and community support for children and families in at-risk neighborhoods.

Obama has floated a $60 billion nationwide plan calling for two years of free community college available to most anyone with a family income under $200,000 who can keep a 2.5 GPA. The idea of the plan which has been greeted with mixed reactions is to curb student debt and boost employment.

Drake said the pipeline program will allow pre-K teachers and child care workers who already have an associate's degree to earn a bachelor's degree from Ohio State. Other partners in the program include Columbus State Community College and Action for Children, a private nonprofit that provides child care and early learning information and resources.

Drake said some will suggest that delving into early childhood education isn't really part of the role of a major research institution like Ohio State, where there's a focus on higher learning and cutting-edge scientific discoveries.

"I have a different view," he said. "I couldn't see anything more important than what we could do in our communities to help our communities develop forward."

Robert Rodriguez, deputy assistant to the president for education, said neuroscience also makes clear that reaching children early is a critical part of their development.

He praised what's happening in the Reeb Avenue Center that hosted Thursday's event. The historic school building has been renovated to house a host of community services agencies, an Ohio State extension program, an early learning center and a cafe offering communitywide meals.

"I have not seen a better model in my travels and in my visits than what you've knitted together here at the Reeb Center to support children, families and lifelong learning from those earliest years all the way through to our adults," he said.

Ginther said Columbus has a long history of supporting early childhood education. He said one of the first kindergarten classes in the U.S. started near the center of today's downtown in 1858.