The House Education Committee at the Indiana General Assembly last week heard a bill that would establish a pilot program to provide pre-kindergarten vouchers to 1,000 children beginning in 2015. The Senate scaled back a similar proposal last year.
This year’s proposal would establish the framework for the pilot program, but a decision on how to fund the program would wait until 2015, when lawmakers craft the next state budget.
“Indiana is one of only about 10 states that does not have some form of a state-funded preschool program,” House Speaker Brian Bosma said, “and we’re targeting on the most vulnerable population. The population that needs, in my opinion, the most opportunity in this regard.”
This is a worthy consideration. The value of a solid preschool education is clear. Youngsters are better prepared for the increasingly rigorous educational demands of kindergarten.
But there’s a gap in the overall education plan in Indiana. Kindergarten remains optional, rather than required.
That means youngsters could go straight into first grade without knowing the alphabet, how to count or how to write their names, let alone the social and educational behaviors needed in the classroom.
Yes, responsible parents should be teaching those and other skills; but not every child enjoys that kind of family.
If legislators are sincere about boosting educational opportunities for young Hoosiers, then they should start by requiring all students to attend kindergarten. That way, first-grade teachers can be assured that all of their charges each year will have some classroom experience and basic knowledge.
Second, state per-pupil funding for full-day kindergartners should be at the same level as students in Grades 1-12. As it is, not every Indiana school district receives full funding for kindergarten programs.
Kindergarten is not state-funded day care. The idea that it is little more than playtime for youngsters is far from the reality. Today it’s an integral part of the education system.
If we are to rely on the kindergarten year for basic education, then the state should be supporting it in the same way it does other grades.
Again, we support a serious examination of state-funded preschool. But we also urge the General Assembly to take the final steps to make kindergarten a full part of the education of Hoosier children.