Pre-K programs need expansion

South Bend Tribune

If you’re looking for a topic where there’s plenty of common ground in Indiana, how about the consensus around the importance of high-quality preschool?

It’s not just education advocates who see the value of prekindergarten programs that prepare a child, academically and socially, for the school years ahead.

Add the business community, philanthropic groups, politicians and taxpayers to the growing list of Hoosiers who have put this issue at the top of their priority list — who see a bigger investment in preschool as vital to the state’s future. You don’t have to look far to find support for the position: 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.

Despite that, Indiana has been slow to invest in early childhood education. The state’s preschool pilot program, in its second year, is available in five counties — Allen, Lake, Marion, Jackson and Vanderburgh. It was an encouraging start. But it doesn’t come close to meeting the overwhelming demand, helping about 4 percent of the state’s 4-year-olds — fewer than 2,800 children.

So what’s next for a state where the passionate consensus around the value of preschool has shifted the discussion from “should we do this?” to “how do we do it?’’ That’s where a new campaign, All IN 4 Pre-K, comes in. The campaign, made up of Indiana families, community advocates and business leaders, is focused on helping Indiana push forward in funding and providing high-quality preschool. The timing is right, with the General Assembly set to work on a two-year budget in the coming year.

The effort, led by Early Learning Indiana, has gathered perspectives from Hoosier families, education and early care experts and community leaders and issued a report, a road map, as it’s called, that makes a compelling case for expansion of prekindergarten and offers recommendations (Read the report at allin4prek.com.)

The task may seem huge, but Angie Skwarcan, who is working with All IN 4 Pre-K as a field organizer for northwest Indiana, explains that the goal is simple: forward movement in expand- ing preschool. “We’re not looking to go from five counties to 92” all at once, she said.

Skwarcan, of South Bend, has a degree in early childhood education and spent a decade teaching in South Bend schools with high-poverty, at-risk populations. “I did a lot of work with kindergarten students, seeing firsthand kids who were not coming to school ready to learn academically and socially … I thought, ‘What can I do to help these families?’”

She believes that the momentum behind preschool investment is because the value is so “obvious.”

“There’s so much information out there supporting every aspect of it,” she said.

Gov. Mike Pence, who pushed through the state’s pilot preschool program, has called early childhood education “the antidote for the toxin of poverty.”

Like an ever-growing number of Hoosiers, we consider it critical in the development of children, helping put them — and the state — on the right path.

The question is: why wouldn’t you be all in for that?

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to dr-editorial@greenfield reporter.com.