Will Indiana Join Leading States as a Model for How to Expand High-Quality Pre-K?
By Jason Quiara, Program Officer, Education
A wonderful thing happened at the Indiana Statehouse on Wednesday: over 600 early childhood advocates, families, and business leaders rallied to support preschool expansion for low-income children. They know what evidence has long told us: investments in high-quality pre-K help children get off to a strong academic start and can lead to long-term positive outcomes that include higher graduation rates, college persistence, and better lifetime earnings.
The “Pre-K Statehouse Advocacy Day,” as it was called, is part of a broader preschool expansion advocacy campaign known as All IN 4 Pre-K. This effort – which includes parents, business leaders, mayors, advocates, and philanthropic partners – aims to bring Indiana more in line with the national movement to increase support for our youngest children to ensure that they enter kindergarten with the academic, social and emotional skills they need to be successful. According to research conducted by the National Institute for Early Education Research, the 2014-15 school year showed continued improvement in state-funded preschool with larger increases in enrollment (over 37,000 more children) and spending (an increase of $553 million) than the previous year.
It was only two years ago that Indiana launched two pilot preschool programs, joining more than 40 other states that provide state funding for 4-year-olds to attend preschool. Both programs target low-income families. However, there’s a huge demand and unmet need among families in Indiana, as less than 4 percent of the 85,300 4-year-olds (approximately half of whom are low-income) have access to the state’s preschool pilot programs. Furthermore, there are over 27,000 unserved low-income 4-year-olds who are not in a high-quality, state-funded preschool program.
Indiana has an opportunity to build on its initial investments and join leading states in building a model that emphasizes quality standards for early learning from the outset. Early childhood advocates and state leaders can learn from what other places are doing well so they can avoid pitfalls that other states have made – such as failing to focus on teacher quality and continuous improvement efforts in pre-K centers – and build a statewide system tailored to what works best for Indiana. For example, All IN 4 Pre-K has identified several core elements that should be part of a high-quality preschool system, such as a strong pipeline of highly trained preschool teachers, working conditions that will help early learning providers recruit and retain a top-notch workforce, and better coordination across early childhood and K-12 to ensure early learning gains are sustained over time.
The Joyce Foundation is pleased to support this pre-K campaign, which is led by Early Learning Indiana and the United Way of Central Indiana. We, like they, know that support for high-quality preschool programs will improve the quality of life for young Hoosiers, especially those who come from low-income families. And we know that this investment in the future will pay dividends down the road for the state.
To learn more about the Joyce Foundation's Education Program, please click here.