Speak up for pre-K, bright state future

South Bend Tribune

The news from the Statehouse is disappointing to those who support expanding preschool in Indiana, a state that’s woefully behind in this critical area.

And perhaps it was a bit surprising, given the consensus and momentum that had been — finally — building around the topic.

The Senate committee’s vote to reduce the amount of additional money given to state-funded preschool left many Hoosiers shaking their heads. The $10 million proposed increase passed by the House for On My Way Pre-K was slashed to $3 million. Also confounding was the decision to allocate $1 million for online pre-K, which is at best a supplement, but no replacement for a quality classroom experience.

In doing so, the committee, headed by Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, disregarded what a coalition of education, community and business leaders has been saying about the importance of investing in early education. The move also shortchanges children of low-income families who have been hurt for years by Indiana’s failure to help them get off to the right start with a state-funded program.

In St. Joseph County, more than 1,800 disadvantaged 4-year-olds are not being served.

All of which has left advocates like Emily Rupchock, who heads the Ready to Grow St. Joe Early Childhood Coalition, disappointed, though not defeated.

Six weeks ago, at PreK Statehouse Advocacy Day, about 500 Hoosiers from around the state, including top business leaders, participated in a rally and met with their legislators, all in support of early education. “It was encouraging,” said Rupchock, among a group of about 10 from St. Joseph County who participated in the event.

At the same time, she says, “We knew the odds we’re up against” here in Indiana, one of eight states without publicly funded pre-K.

Comments from Kenley, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, serve as a reminder of what advocates for the effort to expand pre-K are up against. Even as those in the business sector have come to understand how critical pre-K is to Indiana’s future, even as both the governor and House speaker have advocated for a doubling in spending, some policymakers clearly haven’t arrived.

Kenley has said that all state-funded pre-K does is “alleviate the responsibility of the parent to prepare the child for education.” He’s also indicated that he doesn’t want to expand the program significantly until a longitudinal study measures success.

His words contradict national data aplenty demonstrating the critical difference that prekindergarten programs make in the lives of at-risk children, of the reams of evidence proving that quality early childhood education is a necessity, not a luxury. If skeptical lawmakers aren’t listening to experts, perhaps they should hear from their constituents. Rupchock says, “It’s going to take all of us, including people who don’t realize they’re stakeholders.”

That means you. Talk to your representatives. Speak up for pre-K — and for the future of Indiana.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.