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BEHNING: Pre-K pilot programs should be expanded responsibly

February 11, 2017

DEBATE QShould state-funded pre-kindergarten be expanded statewide?

 

Behning
AResearch shows that children living in low-income households come to school up to 18 months developmentally behind their peers. A high-quality early education program is one of the most effective ways to close the achievement gap that low-income, at-risk children often experience when they enter kindergarten.

The Indiana General Assembly established a five-county pre-K pilot program in 2014 to close this gap. This program currently serves Allen, Jackson, Marion, Lake and Vanderburgh counties and provides high-quality pre-K to about 2,300 low-income, preschool-age children.

This session, I authored legislation to responsibly expand the On My Way Pre-K pilot program. The five-year program has done well in its first two years, and students have shown significant gains from these high-quality pre-K opportunities. It is my goal to expand the program to include up to five more counties, nearly doubling the number of children served. Bringing the program to new counties allows for more geographic diversity and will help the program reach more rural and urban communities. Additionally, this legislation will revise the eligibility requirement from 127 percent of the federal poverty level to 150 percent of the federal free- or reduced-lunch program.

Expanding the pre-K pilot program should be viewed as a long-term investment in young Hoosiers. Children who attend high-quality preschool are more likely to graduate high school, have higher wage-earning potential, are less likely to need remediation in the future, and are less likely to be incarcerated.

Although there are many reasons to expand Indiana’s support for high-quality, early-childhood education, we must do so responsibly. Right now, Indiana is not ready to provide universal, statewide pre-K. Currently, the state lacks adequate capacity and trained personnel, particularly in more rural areas. My legislation helps address this shortfall by providing capacity-building grants to eligible, high-quality providers.

Additionally, a universal pre-K program for children ages 3 to 5 is beyond the state’s current resources. It would cost the state over $2 billion annually, which is equivalent to almost a quarter of the current state budget dedicated to the entirety of K-12 education. For now, we should remain focused on making targeted investments in the children who are in the most need and most likely to benefit from a high-quality, pre-K program.

While Indiana has not enacted a statewide pre-K program, there are still many pre-K options available across the state to help give children a jump-start on their education. I encourage all parents to consider using the state’s Paths to Quality child care quality rating system to select a high-quality program near them.

Visit iga.in.gov to follow House Bill 1004 through the legislative process.•

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Behning is a Republican who represents House District 91 and is chairman of the House Education Committee.Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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