Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Why Preschool Is Worth It (If The State Can Afford It)

    Sara Wittmeyer / WFIU

    A craft project created by Pre-K students at Penny Lane West School in Bloomington.

    Indiana is one of eleven states that doesn’t fund any preschool programs. As we’ve reported, spending nationwide on early childhood education programs has doubled.

    That’s frustrating to the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette’s Karen Francisco — but, she blogs, the General Assembly did take steps to send more money to younger students:

    The waning days of the legislative session seemed to find even the GOP members pushing back on the administration… While they did not fully fund full-day kindergarten, they did steer another $80 million to $100 million to the FDK grant – a tremendous victory for public education and early childhood learning.

    Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, was successful in passing Senate Bill 268, which requires the Indiana Education Roundtable to establish an advisory committee on early education and to lay the groundwork for a statewide Pre-K program. Of course, the measure simply restarts the efforts of former Gov. Joe Kernan’s early learning commission. Gov. Mitch Daniels disbanded the panel along with a number of committees he described as “weeds choking out growth and good government.”

    That’s nearly eight years of progress in early childhood education missed, with Indiana remaining one of only 11 states with no statewide preschool program.

    Francisco points to evidence from several studies showing spending on Pre-K has a high rate of return on investment.

    How high? “Up to a 16 percent return, adjusted for inflation,” Art Rolnik, a Federal Reseve Bank researcher, tells Preschool Matters. “At the minimum, 12 percent. Hard to beat, isn’t it? What other investment pays that kind of return these days.”

    Some estimates are a bit more conservative than Rolnik’s. The rate Indiana University’s Michael Conn-Powers gave us in our original story: 10 percent.

    Sara Wittmeyer / WFIU

    Carol Grubb has taught preschool at the Penny Lane School on Bloomington's west side for 20 years.

    The question retiring Indiana Rep. Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale, asks is whether the state has enough money to make the upfront investment.

    “We’ve got to fund adequately the education system we have. Once we get that taken care of, I suppose you can take a look at the next step,” Espich told StateImpact. “But, I’m not right prepared to give up another grade level in school to fund Pre-K.”

    A decade ago, Espich says, there were “maybe 10,000 Hoosier kids in kindergarten. 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.”

    Francisco isn’t buying that argument.

    “Even budget hawks should be impressed by evidence that preschool produces returns on public investments of 12-16 percent,” she blogs.

    What do you think? Can Indiana afford (not to) spend state money on preschool programs?


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