By Andrew Pillow
After years of complaints and debate Indiana is finally moving in the right direction for Pre-K. Albeit very slowly.
It was just announced Indiana’s On My Way Pre-K program will accept applicants from 10 additional counties. This will be in addition to the other counties that are already included in the On My Way Pre-K Program such as Marion County. The program is open to children who turn 4 by August 1 and come from a family 127% below the federal poverty line.
While this is something to celebrate, it is a far cry from the universal Pre-K system that early childhood education advocates envision. State funded Pre-K is still not available to every child in the state of Indiana. And, of those whom it is available to, it is not always accessible due to the application or transportation.
However, given the cost, difficulty and community partnerships it took to this get this far, people should be thankful. In a state that doesn’t even have compulsory kindergarten or mandate that districts offer full-day kindergarten one can only imagine how difficult it was to get funding for Pre-K and that is what people need to remember when looking at this plan. It’s not enough, it’s not universal, it’s a compromise and more than anyone would have told you they expected 4 or 5 years ago.
Now where do we go from here? Indiana has made incremental improvements on the program year over year. So what should they be shooting for?
In order to make Indiana’s Pre-K system more robust the following things need to happen:
1. Make Pre-K available to every child
Right now, families need to be below a certain level of poverty to be eligible. However, the way poverty is measured is problematic. There are plenty of families in need that still should have access to Pre-K. Additionally, if Indiana is serious about the importance of early education they will make it universal for all families regardless of income.
2. Make Pre-K accessible
Transportation is a big issue. Because of the expense and complications that come with transporting young children there is no perfect answer either. However, sum districts seem to have figured it out and Indiana should emulate what they are doing.
3. Make Pre-K high quality
Not all Pre-K programs are created equal. If the government is going to pay for it they need to make sure they are getting what they pay for. This starts with ensuring the quality of the Pre-K programs. Indiana does currently have a metric to do this called Paths to Quality.
Overall Indiana is getting there. However, the state definitely needs to prioritize moving quicker. While politicians are debating over funding and which counties should be added, thousands of 5 and 6 year old’s are matriculating to kindergarten without the basic skills they need to be successful.