Obama would give Indiana $62.4 million for pre-kindergarten

Indiana would get would $62.4 million to provide high-quality preschool to 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families in the first year of President Barack Obama’s Preschool for All program, according to information released this week by the U.S. Department of Education.

The state would also get $8.5 million for home visits to families with young children by nurses, social workers, parent educators and other professionals. And the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership program, serving children from birth to 3, would be expanded.

How likely is this to happen? Probably not very, even though evidence is overwhelming that early childhood education is a good investment, and the concept has had strong support from the state’s business community and civic leadership. Remember that the Indiana legislature couldn’t agree on even a modest pre-kindergarten pilot program this year, even though its leadership insisted that getting children off to a good start should be a priority.

Obama’s proposal, released early this year, calls for nationwide expenditures of:

 $75 billion over 10 years for Preschool for All, aimed at ensuring that all 4-year-olds have access to free, public preschool.
 $1.3 billion to expand Early Head Start.
 $15 billion for home visit programs.

It seems unlikely that Congress will approve the plan. Republicans who control the House have been cool to the idea of government-funded pre-K. In fact, the “sequestration” budget cuts are sharply curtailing existing preschool services under Head Start.

In Indiana, Preschool for All would require a state match of $6.2 million – 10 percent — in the first year. State leaders have balked at paying a similar share to expand Medicaid.

Indiana House Bill 1004, as introduced in the legislature this year, would have established a pilot pre-K program in up to five counties at a cost of $7.2 million a year. But the bill’s authors weren’t contemplating public preschool; they wanted to create an “early education scholarship,” a voucher for low-income parents to send their 4-year-olds to existing preschools, most of which are privately run.

In fact, students who received the preschool scholarships would have been eligible for state-funded private school tuition vouchers once they reached kindergarten age. That made the bill a non-starter for Democrats. And many Republicans were leery of starting down the road to state-funded preschool. First, it costs money. Second, it flies in the face of the bias that young kids should stay home with Mommy while Daddy goes out and earns a paycheck.

As approved, HB 1004 only calls on the Division of Family Resources to assess the effectiveness of Indiana’s Pathways to Quality child-care rating system and creates an early learning committee to evaluate pre-K options and look for opportunities to improve.

Indiana is one of only 11 states that don’t provide any state funding for pre-K programs. That seems unlikely to change soon.

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