INDIANAPOLIS | Senate Democrats will push next year to make kindergarten mandatory across Indiana while also having prekindergarten classes available in every school corporation.
"We know that the benefits of early childhood education are there," said Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson. "They're ready to learn, but we need to make sure we're providing them with the programs and resources so they can learn."
Lanane said the specifics of the Democrats' plan are still being refined, but it will call for lawmakers to drop the age for mandatory school attendance to 5 from 7. It also will encourage local school corporations to develop prekindergarten programs that best meet the needs of their communities.
He said the plan won't include individual student vouchers, but school corporations may be permitted to work with existing private preschool programs if they offer an adequate curriculum.
"You don't want this just to be glorified babysitting. That's not what we're talking about. We're talking meaningful pre-k education," Lanane said. "High quality pre-k programs produce students more likely to graduate, they earn higher incomes, they own homes and are less likely to require remediation or commit crimes."
Lanane said the price tag for expanding early childhood education options will depend on what the Republican-controlled General Assembly enacts, if anything.
He said the investment is so important lawmakers should be willing to tap the state's $2 billion reserve fund to pay for the programs, not just shift funds around in school budgets.
Earlier this year, the Legislature approved spending $4 million to match private grants awarded to preschools if they increase their enrollment of 4-year-old children from low-income families.