Educators, politicians support early childhood education

2014-03-16T00:00:00Z 2014-03-16T00:17:10Z Educators, politicians support early childhood educationCarmen McCollum carmen.mccollum@nwi.com, (219) 662-5337 nwitimes.com

Democrats and Republicans may differ on many issues, but all recognize that early childhood education is key to a successful student and productive citizen.

As evidence of that, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence included early childhood education as a priority in his 2014 legislative agenda.

There is an existing pilot overseen by the Early Learning Advisory Committee created in the 2013 session. Pence appointed all the members of the committee, said the governor's spokeswoman Kara Brooks. Among its duties is overseeing a $2 million pilot program, she said.

“Innovation begins on the front end of the education continuum," she said. "Gov. Pence supports a targeted Pre-K voucher program serving Indiana’s most disadvantaged 4-year-old kid and believes the program should have strong accountability measures in place to ensure children are starting kindergarten ready to begin a life of learning.”

The governor supports a proposed pre-K voucher program for low-income Hoosiers making roughly $43,000 for a family of four. Indiana is one of 10 states that does not provide a state-funded preschool option. It also does not mandate kindergarten.

Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said the theory is that preschool helps children to perform better when they reach school. However, he estimated a preschool program could cost the state about $280 million a year, and he doesn't know where that money would come from.

A preschool voucher could be used at a public or private preschool. Recipients (and siblings) of the preschool voucher then would be eligible for the regular voucher program or Choice Scholarship Program without first having to attend a year of public school, proponents said.

Despite the cost of a statewide preschool education, local educators say it's critical especially for at-risk students.

Sara Gutierrez, director of the Early Learning Center at George Earle Elementary School in Hobart, advocates early learning education. As director, there are a number of programs under her umbrella, including a transition to kindergarten program and an early childhood program for students with disabilities.

"We also have the Parents as Teachers program and play groups," she said, adding the center works with a total of 347 youngsters.

Valparaiso Superintendent Mike Berta said he, too, is an early childhood education advocate. "The research on the topic clearly tells us those are the formative years for children. There must be a wide variety of experiences for young children, including reading to that child and having discussions about what is read," he said.

Merrillville Superintendent Mark Sperling said youngsters who have preschool experience are more successful in full-day kindergarten. "It allows students to be exposed to academics at an earlier age," he said.

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