Democrats in the Indiana Senate are making a big push for state funding for early childhood education. They're headed in the right direction.
Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said the specifics of his party's plans are still being refined, but among the plans would be to lower the mandatory age for school attendance from 7 to 5.
In other words, children would be required to attend kindergarten.
If you think of kindergarten as a glorified babysitting service for students, you haven't been in a kindergarten classroom in recent years.
With full-day classes, particularly, kindergartners are learning skills relegated to later grades a generation ago.
Children are generally expected to attend kindergarten, so it makes sense to require attendance. Students who don't start school until later miss a year of socialization and the basic building blocks of education.
For that matter, preschool has become increasingly important as a way to prepare children for the increasing demands of K-12 classes.
Lanane wants to encourage local school districts to develop prekindergarten programs that serve their communities' needs. That could include working with existing prekindergarten programs if the curriculum is adequate.
"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."
Indiana lags other states in promoting pre-kindergarten programs. Senate Democrats' desire to put more money into early childhood education makes sense. Their aim of making kindergarten attendance mandatory makes even more sense.
The Indiana budget includes $4 million for preschool programs that meet certain criteria, including matching private grants, for 4-year-olds from low-income families.
Begin some pilot pre-K programs to put a toe in the water, but jump feet first into requiring kindergarten, which has been thoroughly tested.