Pre-kindergarten report: Another year, another black eye for Indiana

A report this week from the National Institute for Early Education Research laments the recent decline in funding for state pre-kindergarten programs. Declining funding isn’t a problem here in Indiana, though. As Bob Dylan put it: When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.

The State of Preschool 2011: State Preschool Yearbook shows Indiana is one of 11 states where 3- and 4-year olds had no access to state-funded preschool in 2010-2011,” NIEER says in a news release.

The report says it would cost $4,130 per child for Indiana to establish a state-funded pre-K program to NIEER standards. A 2006 policy brief from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University put the cost of a statewide program at between $68.2 million and $96.1 million a year.

Currently about 15 percent of Indiana 4-year-olds and 10 percent of 3-year-olds attend free preschool through federally funded Head Start or locally funded special education programs, NIEER says.

National enrollment in state-funded pre-K has doubled over the past decade, it adds, despite recent funding cuts. Florida, which Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett often cites as a model for education reform, ranks No. 1 in providing access to free pre-K programs, according to NIEER.

Kyle Stokes at NPR State Impact Indiana has had a series of good stories on Indiana and pre-kindergarten. As he notes, there was some talk that the state might consider funding pre-K after the Daniels administration discovered the state had $320 million more in the bank than anyone realized. But lawmakers opted to complete funding for full-day kindergarten instead — although some evidence suggests pre-K is a better investment.

The legislature did pass a law instructing the state Education Roundtable to create an advisory committee on early childhood education, which could conceivably advocate for state-funded pre-K. But lawmakers would still have to be persuaded to pay for it.

Who knows? Maybe the administration will find $100 million under a mattress and we can finally start catching up with states like Kentucky and West Virginia in this area.

For evidence of the societal benefits of early childhood education, see this site on the work of James Heckman, a University of Chicago professor and Nobel laureate in economics.

Community conversation on testing

A public forum titled “IREAD-3 and High Stakes Testing: A Community Conversation” will take place this Saturday, April 14, in Bloomington at the Monroe County YMCA. It’s sponsored by the Indiana Coalition for Public Education-Monroe County South Central.

Phil Harris, co-author of the book The Myths of Standardized Tests: Why They Don’t Tell You What You Think They Do, will present information about testing in Indiana. Parents and teachers of children who are facing the state’s new high-stakes, third-grade reading test are also expected to speak.

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