EDITORIAL: Make pre-K affordable, make K mandatory

2014-02-18T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Make pre-K affordable, make K mandatory nwitimes.com
February 18, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence took the unusual step of testifying before a Senate committee last week in support of a proposal to offer up to 1,000 vouchers for low-income prekindergarten students. It's a worthy cause.

"Every child in Indiana deserves the opportunity to start school ready to learn," Pence said. "In a state where one in five children lives in poverty, it has become clear to me that the time has come to expand access for disadvantaged children to quality pre-K programs."

Indiana is among the last holdouts not offering state assistance for preschool education.

House Bill 1004 would authorize a pilot program in five counties not yet specified. Parents meeting income standards would receive a voucher for up to $6,800 to pay for full-day preschool at a public, private or religious institution.

Siblings of those children also would become eligible for the state's K-12 voucher program without having to first attend public school.

But the program, estimated to cost $10 million to $20 million, isn't funded, so it wouldn't begin before July 2015 — and that's only if the program is included in the next biennial state budget.

It's a small step toward ensuring all Hoosier children receive the preschool education they need to prepare them for kindergarten and subsequent grades.

Moving Indiana in this direction should include a broader discussion of what's expected for early childhood education. 

A part of this legislation should be to make kindergarten attendance mandatory. Under current law, a child doesn't have to attend school until age 7. Of course, any child who isn't educated until age 7 will be woefully behind.

Kindergarten is more advanced than many older Hoosiers realize. Students are learning more at an earlier age than in the past.

Launch the preschool pilot program for low-income Hoosiers, but require kindergarten as well. Show Hoosiers, and others, that Indiana is serious about education being a high priority.

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