The Indiana Chamber submitted testimony Wednesday to the Interim Study Committee on Fiscal Policy regarding the state-supported expansion of pre-K for children from low-income families. Below is that testimony from Caryl Auslander, the Indiana Chamber’s vice president of education and workforce development:
“I am honored to serve for the Indiana Chamber, but the most important role I play right now is that of being a Mom to two school-aged kids. My youngest started pre-K this fall and she is off to an amazing start to her educational career. But there are thousands of four-year-old Hoosier children from low-income families that are not as fortunate. They risk starting school with a bigger disadvantage of being behind and not being ready to learn.
First and foremost – we would like to thank the Indiana General Assembly. Two years ago, Indiana became the 42nd state to offer direct state aid for preschool tuition to at-risk children. As you know, this pilot program (On My Way Pre-K) provided $10 million for vouchers provided to four year old children in five counties (Allen, Lake, Marion, Jackson and Vanderburgh).
Fast forward two short years later, we are thrilled that both gubernatorial candidates, both superintendent of public instruction candidates and legislative leaders of all four caucuses have committed to making pre-K a priority this upcoming legislative session. But we know that the breakdown comes from the details on the plan and how exactly to pay for it. The Indiana Chamber has been working hard in the interim as a part of the AllIN4PreK coalition focusing on pursuing several key policy points:
- We are promoting expanding the pilot program to include more 4 year olds from low-income families across the state
- And if we are going to spend state dollars – we need to do it wisely. These pre-K programs must be high-quality – levels 3 or 4 on the Paths to Quality rating system
- And these programs need to be accessible to working parents – nearby where they live or work or on public transportation lines. Therefore we suggest supporting a mixed-delivery system – quality providers in centers, public schools, private schools, ministries and homes
- We want to ensure that we continue data reporting requirements that are now in place within the pilot program to make sure our investments are providing positive results
- And finally, we want to work with the Legislature to find an appropriate fiscal number to fund this program within the constraints of the budget and reflective of revenue forecasts. We recognize that this is a big investment but it is a worthwhile one – according to the Indiana Department of Education, our state spends nearly $32 million a year on kindergarten remediation and expanding the pilot program could significantly mitigate those costs
Kindergarten is now more like first grade due to the increased rigor of college and career-ready standards. It is imperative that children, specifically those without means, have access to quality early-childhood education to have them ready for kindergarten by the time they walk in the door. It is our hope that attending a quality pre-K program will mitigate the high costs of remediation and have students more prepared to learn in their educational career.
The Indiana Chamber has made expanding pre-K a priority for the 2017 session as we want to grow our own talented workforce in Indiana – and an important pathway to that is starting early with four year olds from low-income families and a quality pre-K program.”