March 5, 2013 // Local

Early childhood programs to assist low income families advance

INDIANAPOLIS — Hoosier lawmakers passed a pilot program initiative to grant 1,000 low income children access to a high-quality prekindergarten education. The proposal, HB 1004, which passed the Indiana House of Representatives, 93-6, and is expected to also pass the Senate by the end of April. The Church supports the measure.

The bill, authored by Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis; Rep. Suzanne Crouch, R-Evansville; and Rep. Shelli Vandenburgh, D-Crown Point, initiates a preschool pilot program for 1,000 students in five counties across Indiana. The plan targets low income children who would receive a voucher to attend a state approved, high-quality preschool program.

“We have done a lot in moving education and education reform forward. The greatest need where we have not done a lot is the area of early childhood education,” said Behning. “There is no question. Indiana is behind the rest of the nation in providing early childhood education especially to children of poverty.”

Under the bill, eligible students would come from families at 185 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, which is $43,567 for a family of four according the federal Health and Human Services Department. According to Behning, the state budget is allocating $7 million for the pilot program. Students selected for the pilot program would receive $6,800 to attend a high-quality preschool program.

Behning said it also the intent of the state to maximize Title I, and Head Start money, prior to using the state money to pilot the program. HB 1004 also creates an early childhood advisory panel to track data and create accountability.

Rep. Suzanne Crouch, R-Evansville, said she got involved with this issue when she was approached by business and community leaders in her area that told her the state needed to be involved in early childhood education.

“This is an initiative that business and community leaders have taken the lead on,” said Crouch. “This is about the future of our business development, future economic development, and the future of our children.”

Rep. Shelli VanDenburgh, D-Crown Point, said, “I’m glad to see we have a starting point for early learners. We’ve been talking about this for several years. I’m very supportive of the plan.”

Leaders from the business community around Indiana spoke in favor of the legislation. Mark Gerstle, vice president of community relations for Cummins Engine, said the research their company had conducted showed that 67 percent of kindergarteners in southwestern Indiana did not pass the kindergarten readiness test.

Gerstle told lawmakers that Cummins piloted a three-year program on early childhood education and their data showed a “total correlation” between kindergarten readiness and graduation.

“Our goal is 100 percent graduation rates for high school. And like 60 percent going on to a two- or four-year college. For us it is a business prerogative because we are trying to hire people,” he said. “Cummins, like Lilly and others have put a lot of money into this.”

Gerstle said that the findings of the pilot showed that 100 percent of the kids who got the early childhood education were ready for kindergarten.

Connie Bond Stuart, regional vice president for PNC Bank of Indianapolis, also testified in support of the bill noting that PNC bank has committed $350 million over multiple years to assist in early childhood initiatives. Highlighting the significant body of research showing the positive results, Stuart said that for every $1 invested in early childhood education renders a savings of $16 in later remediation. Stuart said, “Every child deserves a chance to be prepared to learn and ultimately be successful with a productive life.”

Mike O’Connor, state director of government affairs for Eli Lilly and Company, also in favor of the plan said, “We can’t get to where we need to be without statewide early learning initiatives.” O’Connor said there wasn’t a silver bullet in terms of producing a quality workforce, but if there was reaching children in those first developmental years would be the closest thing to it. O’Connor said, “Looking at early childhood development as a business value proposition, investment in early learning nets immediate and long lasting results.”

Glenn Tebbe, Indiana Catholic Conference executive director, said, “The program outlined in HB 1004 will provide needed assistance to families who may experience more obstacles and whose children are often without sufficient opportunities that benefit their social and cognitive development,” said Tebbe. “Public policy should maximize the quality of educational opportunities for all children by ensuring that all parents have access to and the financial capability to exercise the right to choose the school they believe is best for their children.”


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