RICH JAMES: How much longer must less fortunate kids wait?

2014-01-08T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: How much longer must less fortunate kids wait?By Rich James nwitimes.com
January 08, 2014 12:00 am  • 

You wouldn’t think the issue of providing state-supported prekindergarten programs for 4-year-olds would be a political thing.

But it is, at least in Indiana.

Democrats seem to be head-over-heals in favor of getting the 4–year-olds into classes tomorrow.

Republicans aren’t so sure. While they talk about the benefits of early education, there isn’t a united voice.

While Gov. Mike Pence and fellow Republicans talk about making Indiana more attractive to outsiders by eliminating the business personal property tax, they aren’t hell-bent about Indiana catching up with other states in providing early education.

And, unfortunately for 4-year-olds at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale, 2014 likely won’t be their year.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, called prekindergarten an essential foundation for education and essentially for workforce training.

“We need to take the steps to make this happen,” Bosma said without voicing any urgency.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, also didn’t see it as a pressing issue, saying it all will depend on cost.

In fact, the Republican-controlled Senate last year killed a House bill to provide $7 million for a prekindergarten pilot program to service 1,000 low-income children in five counties.

While prekindergarten is almost universally supported in the education community, Pence isn’t so sure.

“The results on pre-K are mixed,” Pence said last month. “The evidence that universal pre-K programs improve outcomes for kids is thinner than one might think, but early learning programs targeted to at-risk and low-income children can and do work well."

But Pence doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to get the at-risk kids into a program.

Instead, he wants the legislators to draw up a prekindergarten program this session and figure out how to pay for it next year.

So, why are Republicans so hesitant to launch an early education program that has a proven record of success?

Could it be because the biggest supporters of prekindergarten are Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and legislative Democrats?

State Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, who is a retired educator, has invited Pence to embrace “the benefits of quality early childhood education.”

State Rep. Shelli VanDenburgh, D-Crown Point, added, “This will make our children more marketable once they get older, because we’re competing against other states that have had early education for years and years. It’s time to stop talking and put up the money and get the job done.”

And the state has the money. Indiana is sitting on a $2 billion surplus collected from Hoosier Republicans and Democrats.

Don’t tell me tax breaks for businesses are more important than kids who start out in life with two strikes against them.

How much longer must the less fortunate have to wait?

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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