At a campaign-style rally at the University of Kansas, a liberal redoubt deep in Republican territory, Obama was introduced by a college student and working mother who said she once spent an entire paycheque on child care for her three children.
Obama said that quality child-care programs "aren't just nice to have. It's a must have" with two working parents in so many U.S. households.
He has proposed expanding access to child care to more than 1 million children by tripling the maximum child-care tax credit for middle-class families with young children to $3,000 per child and spending $80 billion over the next decade to help states provide subsidies to eligible families with preschool-age children.
"I don't want anybody being day-care poor," Obama said. He recalled when he and his wife, Michelle, found paying for child care difficult "and we had good jobs."
Obama wants to pay for expanded child care and other proposals, including making community college free for most students, by eliminating tax provisions that benefit the wealthiest individuals and imposing a fee on large financial institutions. But the idea has received a cool reception in the Republican-run Congress.
Cory Fritz, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Republicans are fully behind increasing access to quality affordable education. "But we don't need more top-down policies from Washington or new tax hikes on middle-income families saving for their children's college education," he said.
Obama said it's fine for Republicans to disagree with his ideas. But he said they shouldn't stop there. "Show me your ideas. Explain to me how you want to help families pay for college and for child care."
Obama was on the second day of a two-day trip to conservative states where he argued for the initiatives he outlined in his State of the Union address on Tuesday.
He acknowledged losing Kansas in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, but cheerfully added that he probably won some sectors of the university town of Lawrence.
Obama's first stop was Idaho, another conservative state that overwhelmingly went for his Republican opponent in both of those campaigns.
Before addressing about 7,000 people at the University of Kansas sports pavilion, Obama dropped in on a local Head Start class that the White House said is one of the oldest in the country. The White House often arranges such local stops to help the president highlight a particular policy or proposal.
He knelt at a table of preschool-aged children who were reading Dr. Seuss' "The Sneetches" and said the story about discrimination was one of his favourites. He also said most of the issues he deals with as president would be solved if everybody read about the Sneetches.
Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap