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Progress On Pre-K, But Still Miles To Go

by Ted Maple, Ph.D., President and CEO

Thousands of young children will have access to pre-K this year thanks to clear demonstration of the need for pre-K expansion, strong support from Hoosier citizens, positive early results of the On My Way Pre-K pilot, and compelling case for investing in Indiana’s future. Our state leaders – our governor, our lawmakers, and business and community leaders – figured out how to nearly double funding for pre-K. This was no small task, given competing priorities and other challenges.

It was a great win for Indiana families. However, we should not be taking a victory lap.

Our work to ensure all Indiana families have access to affordable, high-quality pre-K is far from over. According to the recently-released “State of Preschool” report published annually the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), Indiana ranks 43rd in access to preschool. This ranking will likely go up with our new investment, but not significantly. When compared to other states, Indiana still lags. Pre-K has great promise, but it is still out of reach for tens of thousands of Hoosier families.

Indiana’s On My Way Pre-K program has a lot to offer and it was further improved in many ways this year.

There are strong family engagement features – centered around a scholarship-based system that puts the power in the hands of parents to choose the pre-K provider that best meets their child’s needs (provided that it meets certain quality standards). There is recognition in the On My Way Pre-K program that social-emotional development is an important area of learning and development in pre-K.

However, there is still room for improvement.

While Indiana has created the conditions for quality programs to participate and grow, we could do more to ensure that children get the highest-level of pre-K education. State leaders are exploring ways to improve teacher quality, curriculum and assessment, and screenings to detect health or developmental challenges. Eligibility for On My Way Pre-K is relatively limited. The current program is only available to families in poverty, and parents of pre-K scholarship recipients must be working or in school. Families with moderate income also struggle to afford quality pre-K. So do families without employment.

The Roadmap for Pre-K

Last year, Early Learning Indiana released a roadmap for pre-K expansion called “Success Starts Early” in conjunction with the All IN 4 Pre-K campaign led by United Way. In the coming days, we will be releasing progress report called “On the Road to Pre-K Expansion,” that looks back at all that has been accomplished this past year and what still must be done to ensure we continue to build speed and arrive at our destination – a future where every child starts school ready to succeed.

The “On the Road to Pre-K Expansion” progress report will be available on our website and will be provided to attendees of the second annual Indiana Summit for Economic Development via Early Learning Coaltions in Bloomington on June 5th (more on the summit at www.elacindiana.org/indianasummit).

Momentum is clearly on the side of Indiana children and families. But more children need our voices and support.

We have much work to do. To paraphrase Robert Frost: “We’ve got promises to keep, and many miles before we sleep.” Let’s keep our promise to Indiana children and continue further down the road to pre-K expansion. We look forward to being your travel partners.

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