DOUG ROSS: What Indiana is learning about preschool funding

2014-06-08T00:00:00Z DOUG ROSS: What Indiana is learning about preschool fundingDoug Ross doug.ross@nwi.com, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 nwitimes.com

Early childhood education is important to Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. He devoted five paragraphs on that subject in his State of the State speech Jan. 14. He even took the rare step of testifying at an Indiana Senate committee hearing on legislation that would implement his idea of a voucher-based pre-K program for low-income children.

I'm with Pence on the need for state funding for early childhood education, but it looks like more studying was necessary before pushing this plan through.

The more I learn about the program, the more skittish I become.

One of the first problems is that the Family and Social Services Administration is overseeing this effort.

It's FSSA money being used, but it could have been switched to the Department of Education.

If the goal is to have a seamless education system, pre-K through college, why not have the Indiana Department of Education handle this? And if that isn't the goal, why not?

That's especially true if the plan is to professionalize preschool education in Indiana. The state has a patchwork system of preschools and day care centers — and if you think they're the same thing, you're sadly mistaken.

The legislation authorizing the pilot program in five counties requires, of course, that the money be spent on quality preschools, not places like Bubba's Preschool and Taxidermy Studio. That limits the number of preschools for which this funding would apply.

And while K-12 education is now a state function, the state is apparently interested in shirking that responsibility for preschoolers. Instead of the state picking up the whole tab, even for the pilot program, counties are expected to chip in matching funds.

Oh, and the 18 counties considered finalists — Lake is the only one in Northwest Indiana — have to research the types and capacity of available preschool programs, along with efforts to promote early childhood education.

Pence's hope, along with the legislators who drafted this law, was to have the pilot program up and running by fall.

Well, it's running, but in the wrong direction. And it won't be ready for implementation by fall.

This could have, and should have, been handled differently.

The pilot program authorized this spring is better than nothing, but that isn't saying much.

Indiana Democrats have been pushing for preschool funding for years. Other states have been spending for early childhood education in that interim.

Indiana still doesn't even require kindergarten attendance yet.

Hopefully, the state will learn from this pilot preschool program and make some big changes before it becomes implemented statewide.

I would like to see standards for education that span all the way from preschool to college. Even in Indiana, a state that loathes change, it could happen.

But with this pilot program off to such a rocky start, who knows when that might happen?

Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Doug.Ross@nwi.com. Follow him at www.facebook.com/doug.ross1 and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinions are the writer's.

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