Rep. Cook: Weighing pre-K program expansion options for Indiana

Posted by: Devan Strebing & Shelby Seay  | Friday, March 24, 2017

Children who attend high-quality preschool have higher wage-earning potential and are more likely to graduate from high school. With these proven benefits in mind, lawmakers are working this session on expanding early childhood education options in Indiana.

If the state paid for each preschool-aged student to attend a pre-K program, it would cost over $2 billion annually. This amount is equal to nearly a quarter of the current state budget allocated to the entirety of K-12 education. Indiana invests 52 percent of the general fund on education, and because we are a state that does not spend more than we take in, lawmakers must work to find a funding solution for pre-K without creating a deficit.

In 2014, we enacted the On My Way Pre-K Pilot Program in five Indiana counties – Allen, Jackson, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh – to provide high-quality early childhood education to nearly 2,300 low-income families. These at-risk students can be up to 18 months behind when they begin kindergarten, as compared to their classmates. On My Way pre-K aims to close the achievement gap for low-income students. This program currently costs the state $10 million per year.

Various ideas are being discussed at the Statehouse to determine the best way to expand high-quality preschool education to more low-income Hoosier students.

The current pilot program is in its second year, and one option on the table is to expand the program to include an additional five counties, bringing the total count up to 10 counties. This would require an additional $10 million, which would increase the total cost to $20 million dedicated to pre-K for at-risk children. The budget proposal that the House passed on to the Senate includes this expansion.

Another option is a statewide expansion of this program to eligible providers in any Indiana county. A Prekindergarten Pilot Program Fund would be created, with $16 million allocated from the state’s budget. The legislation would also allow the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration to develop and implement a reimbursement program to compensate for the costs incurred by parents to provide technology-based, in-home early education services to a child. It allows money in the fund to be used to pay for the reimbursements. However, due to fiscal constraints, this would not cover every at-risk child.

Currently, there are not high-quality pre-K providers in every county. By opening the program up to the counties that do have eligible providers, some at-risk children would have the opportunity to enroll in a program.

As a former educator, I have seen the benefits of high-quality early childhood education, and I support a responsible expansion of the pilot program. As both of the options continue to be examined, it is important that the solution invests state support toward the very best providers to serve low-income Hoosier students who are in the most need.

Please contact me with any questions or comments at H32@iga.in.gov or call 317-232-9793.

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State Rep. Tony Cook (R-Cicero) represents House District 32, which includes all of Tipton County and portions of Hamilton, Madison, Delaware, Howard and Grant counties.

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