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Students at a Jump Start program in Seymour work with their teacher on learning the alphabet.

Early Childhood Education: The Push For Pre-K

Background

In recent years, Indiana has raised expectations for its youngest students. And that means it’s more important than ever that kindergarteners arrive at school ready to learn.

Yet prior to 2014, Indiana didn’t provide any public money for preschool — and nearly half of all students started kindergarten without any kind of early childhood education.

That’s why Gov. Mike Pence made finding money to pay for pre-K his No. 1 education priority for the 2014 legislative session. With the support of prominent Republicans like Speaker of the House Brian Bosma and House Education Committee Chairman Bob Behning, state lawmakers approved a small-scale pilot program for low-income 4-year-olds.

That’s a shift from just a year earlier, when broad support for early learning wasn’t enough to pass a similar pilot program.

Pence has said he favors a local, organic approach to solving Indiana’s pre-K problem — and that’s why the preschool pilot focuses on using existing providers to deliver needed services. The targeted program for low-income families will launch in five Indiana counties and rely on existing funds from the Family and Social Services Administration, as well as matching funds.

But with roughly 40,000 Hoosier 4-year-olds eligible, the back-of-the-napkin numbers add up quickly — serving kids not already enrolled in the federally-funded Head Start program could cost as much as $126 million per year.

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