Cherry: Bringing pre-K to more at-risk children

Posted by: Samantha Holifield  | Friday, February 17, 2017 9:01 am

Children who receive a high-quality early childhood education oftentimes see a number of positive benefits related to their education and careers. Research shows that they are more likely to graduate high school and will have higher wage-earning potential. Additionally, these children are less likely to need remediation and less likely to be incarcerated in their lifetime.

High-quality preschool gets students off to a good start in their academic career, and it is an effective tool to help close the achievement gap that at-risk children often face. Children that live in low-income households can come to kindergarten up to 18 months behind their classmates. Without effective intervention, this gap can continue until age 10, creating negative attitudes about school and eventually lead to an increased risk of dropping out of high school.

Education is vital for all Hoosiers, whether you are in school or not. We want all students to have an opportunity for success. That is why the House of Representatives recently passed legislation to responsibly expand the On My Way Pre-K pilot program. This program was established in 2014 and provides high-quality early childhood education to nearly 2,300 low-income preschoolers in five counties. Since it commenced, the program has been successful, and students have shown significant gains in their ability.

House Bill 1004 allows for the expansion of On My Way Pre-K to up to five more counties. This proposal would bring high-quality preschool programs to nearly double the amount of low-income, at-risk children. In addition, the eligibility requirement for the program will be revised from 127 percent of the federal poverty level to 150 percent of the free or reduced lunch program’s eligibility. Once accepted to the On My Way Pre-K program, students can choose from one of the eligible preschools in their county.

Since we’re currently in our original five-year pilot program, we are still gathering research to ensure that pre-K is the absolute best way to give students a jump on their education. Additionally, Indiana is not financially ready for universal pre-K. The state does not currently have enough resources to afford the $2-billion price tag to provide preschool education for all young Hoosiers. That estimated cost is equal to nearly a quarter of the state’s current budget reserved for all of K-12 education. For this reason, the bill focuses on providing preschool to the children that are most at-risk and will see the biggest returns from participation in pre-K. Small, targeted investments are the most responsible way to expand our early education programs.

Something else we should consider is there are currently not enough teachers or high-quality programs in place to accommodate every student, especially in the more rural areas of the state. Acknowledging this issue, the legislation passed by the House also includes grants for high-quality pre-K providers to build and expand capacity.

I believe that early childhood education is a worthwhile investment in our young Hoosiers, but we must do so in a responsible manner. House Bill 1004 will now be heard in the Senate and can be followed at iga.in.gov.

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State Rep. Cherry represents House District 53, which

includes portions of Hancock and Madison counties.

He serves as Vice Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

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