Too little, too late on early childhood education

Gov. Mike Pence’s surprising decision last year not to apply for a federal education grant that could have brought Indiana up to $80 million to spend on preschool for low-income youngsters was a costly one for Hoosier children and families.

We recently got a glimpse of the staggering tally.

According to a story in the Indianapolis Star, the prekindergarten funding available through the state’s $10 million pilot program doesn’t even begin to address the needs in the five counties where it’s available. The majority of families who applied for the program were turned away.

In Marion County, about 70 percent of the 5,000 who applied were rejected. In Lake County, only 40 percent of those who applied were accepted. And Vanderburgh County, which had the highest acceptance rate, rejected about 35 percent of applicants. The program is also offered in Allen and Jackson counties.

Those hoping that lawmakers will step in are doomed to disappointment: Republicans who control the General Assembly say that additional funding is unlikely in the immediate future; the earliest chance for that money won’t come until lawmakers write a new state budget in 2017.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking as a legislative study evaluates the effectiveness of the pilot program and the governor — who once called early childhood education “the antidote for the toxin of poverty” — plans to “study the issue,” according to a spokeswoman.

If anyone is interested in studies, there’s national data aplenty demonstrating the critical difference that prekindergarten programs make in the lives of at-risk children, with reams of research showing that those who start school at a disadvantage are more likely to fall behind and drop out of school. And best practices shouldn’t be too hard to find in the 40-plus states that invest in early childhood education.

Count us among those still thinking of what could have been in the 14 months since Indiana dropped its bipartisan-supported bid for a grant that would have allowed for extension of preschool opportunities beyond five counties. If the state had received the grant — and the odds appeared to be very good — some of those resources would have come into this area, where they are sorely needed.

A year ago, in trying to explain his inexplicable decision, Pence said, “This is not about money, it’s about our children, and we have an obligation to get it right.”

He should ask all those Hoosier families whose applications for the pre-K program were denied if the state is getting things right.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to