05 Dec GUEST COMMENTARY:
Pre-K’s Time is Now, Legislature Must Focus
Kim Olesker and Jennifer Wright, NWI The Times – Oct 9, 2016
The Republican and Democratic candidates for Indiana governor have both released plans for expanding high-quality pre-K in Indiana, signaling agreement across the aisle that opportunities for happy, healthy lives begin in strong pre-K programs.
While our gubernatorial candidates might differ on their specific approaches to expand access to early learning, one thing is clear: Pre-K is an idea whose time has come.
Our state legislators should make every effort to support the momentum building for it in communities across Northwest Indiana and the state.
The benefits of pre-K are many and well documented. We know the most important development in a child’s brain occurs before age 5, and pre-K enables educators to reach children when they’re at this critical stage in life.
As a result, children who attend pre-K are much more likely to enter elementary school prepared to learn. Their success translates into short- and long-term positive outcomes for local families and the whole state.
That’s why seven out of 10 Hoosier voters said they support a bold expansion of pre-K to many more low-income families in the next legislative session, according to a representative statewide poll.
Through an effort called All IN 4 Pre-K, communities all over the state are voicing their desire for pre-K programs that help children build the skills they’ll need to thrive in school and in life.
This groundswell of support is driven, in part, by the fact that thousands of Hoosier children still lack access to quality pre-K programs. Thousands of students remain on waiting lists because there are a limited number of quality slots available.
While more of our state policymakers have made steps in the right direction to grow access to high-quality pre-K, including Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, we need to do much more to help these children.
Fortunately, many of our state leaders on both sides of the aisle have signaled their willingness to tackle this important issue, and we look forward to seeing them working together to create a locally driven pre-K solution that gives families a choice, empowers parents with responsibility and upholds Hoosier values.
Indiana legislators should support a proposal to provide funding — through scholarships and grants — for many more 4-year-old children from low-income families to attend high-quality pre-K programs if their parents want to send them.
Whether at high-quality centers, schools, faith-based organizations or home-care businesses, pre-K leads to stronger kindergarten readiness, less grade retention and a significant return on investment to Indiana’s economy.
If the statements made by the state’s gubernatorial campaigns are any indication, Indiana has the political will to expand pre-K in the next legislative session. And as our lawmakers put forth a budget that builds on the tremendous gains we’ve made in education, investing in pre-K should be a top priority.
The time is now to make a significant down payment that will ensure Indiana’s next generation of leaders has the chance to flourish in school and in life.
For information regarding Hilltop Neighborhood House’s Early Childhood Education Program, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kim Olesker is president and CEO of United Way of Porter County. Jennifer Wright is CEO of Hilltop Neighborhood House, a registered ministry early childhood center in Valparaiso. The opinions are the writers.
You can view the full article HERE.