Teachers say that’s a problem now that more learning occurs in the early grades. Students that can’t already identify letters or numbers start kindergarten behind. But even though studies indicate early childhood education programs have a high dollar-for-dollar return on investment, state lawmakers contend there just isn’t money to pay for another year of school. (Indiana just approved grant funding for all-day kindergarten in 2012, though students still aren’t required to start school before first grade.)
It’s not just a question of how to pay for pre-K. It’s also a question of who should pay. Early childhood education became a central issue in the 2012 gubernatorial campaign after Democrat John Gregg proposed a pilot public preschool program in 40 schools.
But Gov. Mike Pence, who won the election, says he favors a local, organic approach to solving Indiana’s pre-K problem. He praised Busy Bees Academy in his hometown of Columbus for using a combination of public resources and private money to enroll more 4-year-olds in preschool. Yet funding for Busy Bees dwindled after voters rejected a property tax levy increase.
Indiana House Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown says finding funding for early education is a “priority” this year, so it’s likely the legislature will consider paying for pre-K in 2013.