Many kindergartners entering classrooms this fall will face a stark reality; it will be their first time in a classroom environment. Consequently, and at no fault of their own, the odds of achieving key milestones like graduating on-time, landing a high-paying job and owning a home are already stacked against these students. It does not have to be this way. A key component to setting Hoosier children on the path to success is ensuring access to quality early education. In doing so, we can greatly improve outcomes for both students and the state.
Launching a statewide initiative to improve access to prekindergarten education has been the source of much hand-wringing in Indiana. Despite bills proposed for over a decade to create this program, a few loud voices have rashly questioned the value of improving access to high-quality early education programs. As a result, Indiana is one of only 10 states without a stated-funded prekindergarten option. The fact is, in an environment where any public expenditure is, and rightly so, measured by its return on investment, high-quality pre-k programs are a blue-chip investment.
For students, the benefit is profound. In a report commissioned by the Indiana Education Roundtable, researchers found students attending quality prekindergarten programs were more likely to complete high school, earn a higher income, hold a skilled job, attend college and less likely to have a criminal record or spend time in prison. The impact of high-quality early education programs extends beyond just the students participating. Higher on-time graduation rates mean fewer resources dedicated to remediation, which cost the state more than $8 million in 2013. From fewer incarcerations to a more skilled workforce, Hoosier taxpayers and businesses alike have much to gain with an investment in early education.
There are some that question the price tag of what they call “state-sponsored babysitting.” Let them answer then how continuing to block students and the state from the benefits of quality prekindergarten makes fiscal or moral sense. The same Indiana Education Roundtable report notes that one study estimated that for every one public dollar invested, early education returned nearly $13 in benefits and participants earned nearly $160,000 more than they would have otherwise.
Many issues divide lawmakers; however, guaranteeing Hoosier students have every opportunity to succeed should not be one. Indiana’s next generation cannot be denied the benefits of a quality early education any longer. Senate Democrats will offer legislation in the upcoming session to fast-track a statewide program that relies heavily on the input and cooperation of local schools and community stakeholders. The case for early education is clear, now is the time for lawmakers to recognize its sweeping value and join this effort.
State Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, represents District 25 that includes Muncie and the southeastern portion of Anderson.