By Lacy Scarmana
Five counties — Allen, Jackson, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh — were selected this week to participate in Indiana’s pre-k pilot program aimed at preparing low-income children for success in school. Now, the pressure is on for the selected counties to determine the future of the program.
“We look at this as that other counties and thousands of children, born and yet to be born, are looking at us to lead the way, to do a good job, to prove that this really works, that it’s worth the investment of taxpayer dollars in the long run to have high quality early learning opportunities for all children, especially those from low-income families,” says John Peirce, a consultant to the United Way of Allen County for Early Childhood Initiatives.
But even counties that weren’t selected are putting an increased focus on early childhood education.
Bartholomew County was one of 18 finalists, but was not selected to participate in the program. John Burnett, President and CEO of the Community Education Coalition, says there has been a privately-funded effort underway since 2010 to expand pre-k efforts in Bartholomew County.
“I think it’s terrific that there’s funding being allocated in the state for pre-K and I for one am very grateful that the legislature created that opportunity,” Burnett says. “We’re going to keep moving and serving children, especially those children whose families are in need of some help.”
Before the pre-k pilot program, Indiana was one of 11 states that did not offer any publically-funded preschool.
“With the significant problems we had in terms of children of poverty coming to kindergarten almost 18 months behind, we were looking for a way to meet the needs of those students,” says Representative Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, who wrote the legislation for the program.
During the pilot, researchers will track how students in the program perform as they continue their schooling. A kindergarten readiness assessment given to children at the end of the program will provide continual opportunities for improvement in the early childhood education system by gauging how their skill levels compare to other children entering school.