Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and state Superintendent Tony Bennett have proposed varied and aggressive education reforms for the state legislature to consider. One thing that’s missing: Any mention of early childhood education.
As the Indianapolis Star reported last week, Indiana trails most other states when it comes to including young children in its education system. It’s one of only eight states that provide zero funding for public pre-kindergarten programs, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.
“Of all the things you could do, preschool probably has the largest impact on school success,” Steve Barnett, co-director of the Rutgers University-based NIEER, told the Star’s Scott Elliott.
The advocacy group Pre-K Now cites studies that have found high-quality pre-kindergarten programs increase high-school graduation rates, improve scores on standardized tests, reduce crime rates and produce more productive adults. Every dollar invested in high-quality pre-K, it says, saves taxpayers $7.
The problem, of course, is finding that $1 to invest now, when the economy is struggling and state leaders are focused on keeping taxes low. “I think we as a state must do it,” Superintendent Bennett told the Star, referring to investing in early education. “But it is going to be very challenging to have it become part of this legislative agenda on the basis of money.”
The Star article also notes that Indiana doesn’t require kids to start school until the fall term of the school year in which they will turn 7 — later than two-thirds of the states. Schools have to offer kindergarten, but children aren’t required to attend.
Legislation has been introduced that would require students to start school in the year during which they will turn 6. But the bill may not go anywhere if lawmakers determine it will cost the state money.