Indiana took a small step in the right direction recently when Gov. Mike Pence signed a law creating a pilot program for state-funded preschool.
The trial run will provide between $2,500 and $6,800 per child so low-income 4-year-olds in five test counties can attend high-quality preschool programs.
Pence deserves credit for insisting on a preschool program when some members of his own party lacked enthusiasm.
In the end, he got only five counties this year instead of all 92, as he wanted, but it’s a start.
It may be wise to dip Indiana’s toe in the waters of state-supported preschool before doing a cannonball off the diving platform. On the other hand, 40 other states already have made the leap safely, so it might not be that big a risk.
The good news is that we should learn something from the five-county experiment to make the program better when it expands to the whole state.
We shouldn’t expect to learn a lot about the long-range benefits of preschool in one year. For that, we’ll have to rely on the experience of others.
Last week in Auburn, some 50 education and business leaders gathered to hear the benefits of making sure children are ready to start kindergarten with the preparation they need to succeed.
The gains could be significant because we’re enrolling low-income children who have plenty of room to grow. Many children whose parents can afford to pay for preschool probably would do fine without it. Their parents also read books to them, take them to museums and provide other learning experiences.
The boost preschool can provide to a child who gets a shortage of stimulation at home should be very significant. It could pay dividends more quickly than we think. Fewer children may need remedial services in elementary schools. Discipline in classrooms could improve.
Down the road, our goal should be to graduate happy, productive citizens who don’t drag us down with the costs of unemployment benefits and crime.
Indiana’s one-year trial run will cost $15 million, with $5 million expected to come from private donors. The program would work much like the state’s private school voucher program for K-12 students.
Children from families with incomes up to 127 percent of the poverty level would be eligible. One source said that’s about $28,380 for a family of four.
Estimates say the pilot program will allow about 1,500 children to attend preschool. If the program goes statewide, roughly 40,000 Hoosier 4-year-olds would be eligible, with an estimated cost of up to
$126 million per year. That will test our legislators’ priorities.
We hope legislators remember that forward-thinking business leaders see universal preschool as a key to ensuring Indiana has the workforce it needs to succeed.
Educators see expanding preschool as a way to combat low graduation rates, illiteracy and violence. In the long run, that should please all Hoosiers, even those who fixate on the bottom line.
Distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to