Three and four- year old children sit around a table at Penny Lane West School in Bloomington. Student artwork hangs on the walls of the classroom and the children are sitting in miniature multi-colored chairs at a half-circle table with their teacher, Carol Grubb, in the center. Grubb has been teaching here for more than 20 years.
“Preschool is important for the children because they expect quite a bit out of a child in kindergarten nowadays,” says Grubb. “They expect them to know their ABC’s, and how to cut pictures out with scissors, how to tie shoes, and a lot of different things.”
In February, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 96 to 2 in favor of funding full-day kindergarten. As state legislators prepare to funnel almost $80 million dollars into the new program, some experts are questioning whether it would be more beneficial to fund pre-school.
Michael Conn-Powers is the Director of the Early Childhood Center at Indiana University. He says Indiana is behind on pre-K education.
“Indiana is one of 8 or 9 states that does not provide any kind of public funding for pre-school services for any kind of children other than children with disabilities that’s required under the federal special education laws,” says Conn-Powers. “All of the states around us have provided pre-school funding and pre-school services for many years including Kentucky, our neighbors to the south.”
Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Jeff Espich (R-Uniondale), says it would jnot make sense to fund pre-school before establishing a full-day kindergarten program.
“We’ve got to fund adequately the education system we have and once we get that taken care of, once again, I suppose you can take a look at the next step,” says Espich. “But, I’m not right prepared to give up another grade level in school to fund pre-K.”
The Penny Lane West School in Bloomington offers not only preschool but also kindergarten. Teacher Mandy Colvin has taught both and says she can tell a difference between students who’ve gone through a quality pre-K program.
“If a kid is thrown into a classroom and they’ve never been anywhere but at home with Mom, they don’t know how to share, they don’t know how to work in a group, they don’t know how to work together, play together even,” Colvin says. “So, if they can’t do that, it’s hard to teach them anything because that’s the main thing.”
School Director Emmy Sparks says as the state continues to put more requirements on schools with such measures as the IREAD and ISTEP standardized tests, pre-K becomes more necessary.
“It’s all about numbers, and tests and those kinds of things whenever they get into school,” says Sparks.
Espich, who has spear-headed full-day kindergarten legislation, does not dispute that pre-K is important, but says there is simply not enough money to go around. He says Hoosiers should take it one step at a time.
“We started out in 2001 with just maybe 10,000 Hoosier kids in kindergarten,” Espich says. “We’re now up to 68,000 and headed towards 78,000 – that’s all of them – it’s been a great accomplishment but you can only do so much at a time.”
There is legislation in the house that will establish an advisory committee to look at whether the state should fund pre-K education.
“I’d hate to get into an argument that says we should invest in pre-school before we go to full-day kindergarten,” says Conn-Powers.
Meanwhile at Penny Lane West, Grubb says she thinks the state is doing a disservice by not funding pre-K.
“If they haven’t had this experience and just stayed at home, they would be behind.”
The school is licensed to accommodate 150 students but currently only 70 are enrolled. If pre-K state funding becomes available for Hoosier parents, Penny Lane may need more teachers like Grubb.