Behning: Expanding high-quality pre-K opportunities for at-risk Hoosiers

Posted by: Samantha Holifield  | Friday, January 13, 2017 9:38 am

After the start of the New Year, the General Assembly began meeting to consider legislation to keep Indiana moving forward. Recently, I joined House Republicans to announce our legislative priorities. We remain committed to fiscal responsibility, sustaining our AAA credit rating and maintaining prudent state reserves. While maintaining an honestly balanced budget, we will work to create a long-term infrastructure funding plan. We’ll boost our economy by attracting, retaining and improving Indiana’s workforce. Additionally, we’ll be taking a closer look at broadening statewide access to addiction treatment options in order to tackle the opioid and heroin epidemic.        

As the chair of the House Committee on Education, I am focused on investing in young Hoosiers by providing more early childhood education opportunities, starting with high-quality pre-K.

When considering whether to expand Indiana’s pre-K pilot program, we have to look at it as a long-term investment in our kids. Data shows that on average, children of poverty come to school anywhere from 12 to 18 months developmentally behind their age group. Without some form of intervention, this achievement gap could still be present at age 10 and potentially lead to a higher risk of dropping out of high school. With high-quality early education opportunities, these students can enter kindergarten ready to learn with their peers, closing the gap.

In 2014, the General Assembly created our pre-K pilot program to begin broadening access to early childhood education. Currently, the On My Way Pre-K pilot program serves approximately 2,300 low-income 4-year-olds in Allen, Lake, Marion, Jackson and Vanderburgh counties. This is a five-year program, and we are currently in the second year.  Mountains of evidence and research findings show that children who have access to programs like On My Way Pre-K are less likely to be incarcerated, have higher graduation rates and improved wage earning potential.  

Even though our current program is showing great results, Indiana still falls behind the national average in pre-K enrollment. I’ve been working with my fellow lawmakers and community leaders to responsibly expand On My Way Pre-K and other high-quality programs. This week, I filed House Bill 1004, which would increase our current pilot program from five counties to 10, serving roughly 2,300 additional at-risk children.

Under this proposal, the eligibility requirements for families would change from 127 percent of the federal poverty level to 150 percent of the federal free or reduced lunch program. This will broaden eligibility for current and potential future pre-K options. There would also be a new capacity-building matching grant available for high-quality programs across the state to expand their early childhood education offerings.

This is just one of the many topics being debated at the Statehouse. As we begin hearing proposals, I encourage you to share your thoughts and opinions with me. You have several options to do so. You can complete and mail in your legislative survey or fill it out online at www.in.gov/h91. You may also chose to contact me directly by calling my office at 317-232-9643 or emailing at h91@iga.in.gov. I welcome all feedback and look forward to hearing from you.   

-30-

State Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis) represents House District 91,

which includes portions of Hendricks and Marion counties.

A high-resolution photo of Behning can be downloaded by clicking here