Like a lot of other people in Indiana these days, the General Assembly is taking a close look at pre-k and early childhood education this session.
The legislature’s Interim Study Committee on Education met Monday, charged with studying a host of topics described in HEA 1004, the legislation that established, among other things, Indiana’s first state-funded pre-k pilot program. Many of the remarks at that meeting reiterated the need for pre-k in Indiana, as well as funding to support it – along with a few recommendations for the committee to consider.
If you’ve ever attempted to watch C-SPAN, you’ll know how challenging it can be to boil a hearing or meeting down to one or two key takeaways – we at StateImpact feel your pain.
So, we’re taking a page out of the study committee’s book and making a list. The committee has defined 10 key questions to focus on during discussion on pre-k and early childhood education – and we’re attempting to give you a rundown of what happened during the three-hour meeting using the magic of bullet points.
Here are those 10 questions the committee is asking – and some comments from key players who are trying to help them figure things out:
1) What is the feasibility of obtaining a block grant and necessary waivers under the federal Head Start program to establish an early learning scholarship program or another type of alternative program?
2) What is the feasibility of obtaining a Child Care and Development Block Grant or other federal funds to fund prekindergarten or early learning education programs in Indiana?
These first two questions seek to find out whether Indiana could apply for money from the federal government to help get more low income families into existing programs. Federal dollars currently support one other major preschool initiative for low income families in Indiana, known as Head Start. The state’s Family and Social Services Administration also administers the Child Care and Development Fund, or CCDF, a program that offers child care so parents can work, attend training, or continue their education.
James Betley, a member of the FSSA’s Early Learning Advisory Committee, says there is no such thing as a block grant for CCDF and Head Start:
State Superintendent Glenda Ritz has also said that Indiana will apply for a Preschool Development Grant, federal money to help establish infrastructure for high quality preschool throughout the state. Applications are due Oct. 14 and the USED says the grants will be awarded by December.
3) What are the options for funding prekindergarten or early learning programs, including opportunities to partner with business, philanthropic or community leaders?
A handful of state and regional organizations have already pledged financial support for preschool initiatives in Indiana. The state-funded pre-k pilot program relies on existing funds from the FSSA as well as matching funds from groups in the five participating counties. Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s pre-k program for his city has already received support from organizations like the United Way of Central Indiana and most recently Eli Lilly and Co. Funding for the mayor’s program in particular has been an ongoing debate.
4) Have other states developed rigorous accountability standards for prekindergarten or early education?
Prior to the passage of HEA 1004, Indiana was one of only ten states that didn’t fund preschool. Melanie Brizzi, for the FSSA, told StateImpact in July that some of the states tossed around as good role models for Indiana’s pre-k pilot program included neighbors such as Minnesota, Ohio and Illinois, as well as Florida, which according to the National Institute for Early Education Research has a program that serves more than 70 percent of the state’s four-year-olds.
“There’s forty other states that have implemented pre-k, so there’s an abundance of research material that we can go to and ask folks,” Brizzi said.
5) What are the Parental Involvement opportunities to prepare children for education outside the educational environment?
6) What are the opportunities to equip parents with skills necessary to improve the parents’ ability to contribute to their child’s early education?
These questions are still being discussed on a county-by-county basis for the pre-k pilot program. For example, program representatives in Jackson County told StateImpact that they still aren’t sure what to expect from parents because they’re still figuring out what the state needs from them.
At Monday’s committee meeting, Jay Geshay, a senior vice president with the United Way of Central Indiana, reminded the committee that a parent’s role in his or her child’s education is crucial, and should remain a key focus:
7) What are the economic benefits of prekindergarten or early learning?
It seems most people are in agreement that not only can kids benefit from early education, the outlook is positive for the state’s economy and workforce too.
Connie Bond Stuart, regional president for Central and Southern Indiana for PNC Bank, says the early years are a critical opportunity to develop a child’s potential, as well as shape key skills that determine ultimately a child’s ability to succeed in school and in life:
8) Which is the appropriate state agency or entity to develop and oversee preschool accountability standards?
A handful of state agencies have a hand in developing standards for early childhood education, including the FSSA, Governor Pence’s Center for Education and Career Innovation, the State Board of Education, and the Department of Education. We could get into how each of these groups is entangled with the rest, but you’ve read the news: it’s complicated. We will tell you that the IDOE was in charge of developing academic standards for kids from birth to age five.
9) What is the appropriate income standard to use to determine eligibility for tuition assistance from the state for preschool?
Right now, the answer to this question differs depending on which program you’re addressing. To qualify for the state’s pre-k pilot, the FSSA says a student’s family can earn no more than 127 percent of the federal poverty limit. That’s a little more than $28,000 a year for a family of four.
Head Start currently serves kids up to 130 percent of the poverty level.
10) What are the opportunities to partner with an investment group or entity to establish an investment fund or vehicle to finance preschool in Indiana?
Another indicator that funding is a big deal when it comes to getting pre-k programs started and keeping them going.