In Indiana, a recent focus on building the necessary infrastructure and creating the right business climate has positioned Indiana to be a leader in job creation in the Midwest and across the country.
But business and policy leaders recognize that without the people to fill important positions in the employment pipeline the State won’t reach its full potential. And they know that developing people begins with getting kids off to the right start with quality pre-kindergarten programs.
I was lucky. When I was very young, I was blessed with some outstanding learning opportunities at home, at my church, at the YMCA, and at my elementary school prior to entering kindergarten. I began school with a good education foundation and a strong support network at home. That helped me excel in elementary, junior high, high school and college.
Those experiences prepared me well for the workplace and helped me succeed in the various jobs I’ve held through the years. Many of you likely have a similar experience. Unfortunately, these days too many people do not. Many lack the opportunities prior to kindergarten to build that necessary foundation, as a result, then spend a lifetime trying to catch up.
Today, Indiana is one of only eight states without a publicly-funded pre-K program. Only thirty- six percent of Indiana’s three- and four-year-olds are enrolled in pre-K programs, compared to forty-six percent nationally. And Hoosier families currently spend a higher share of their incomes on early childhood care and education than do families in other states, about $7,500 annually.
The need is great. For example, just thirty one percent of low-income three- and four-year-olds attend public or private preschool/pre-kindergarten programs, as compared to forty one percent of their peers from higher-income families. Indiana’s share of children from low-income families is substantially higher than the national average-62 percent of children ages 0-5 are from low-income families, compared to a national average of 47 percent.
State leaders have taken the first steps to implement a statewide pre-k program. In 2014, Indiana lawmakers created a voluntary Early Education Pilot Program that offers pre-kindergarten in five counties. Elkhart and St. Joseph Counties were passed over for that pilot. The pilot currently serves only 1,585 children, but the effort signifies a significant step toward developing a permanent, state-funded pre-K program.
A statewide program will likely contain three priorities: creating or expanding existing, highly- rated child care programs, recruiting and retaining a well-trained preschool workforce, and funding infrastructure changes where needed.
But legislative leaders are advocating a go-slow approach to expanding the state-funded preschool program and warning there might be little money to boost school spending in the next state budget. Widespread roll-out could carry a big price tag. Currently sixty five out of ninety two Counties in Indiana have no State Pre-School Investment.
Data from recent studies suggest that Hoosier families are unable to access, afford, or realize the benefits associated with high quality programs without an expanded state role in funding and regulation. It will be one of the most important debates in the 2017 legislative session.
Business leaders will have an opportunity to learn more at a “Success Starts Early” breakfast on Friday, December 9, 8:30 AM at WNIT. There, leaders will learn more about how making a commitment to high quality pre-K programs can yield a high return on investment and contribute to a stronger economy.
Representatives from Early Learning Indiana and local leaders will share information and answer questions regarding what is slated to be a hot topic in the next legislative session. Interested parties can register at www.sjchamber.org. Additional information on pre-k programs can be found at www.ecalliance.org or www.earlylearningin.org.