How close is Indiana to universal preschool?

While President Barack Obama publicly declared his support for universal preschool during his State of the Union address earlier this year, several obstacles remain before public early childhood education becomes reality in Indiana.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz told Fox 59 News that preschool and early childhood learning is invaluable.

“The earlier a child gets that language base formulated, the better the reader they’re going to be and reading affects everything in their school career,” Ritz said.

Over the next year, Ritz said she plans on developing a set of standards for preschool education, while further researching what programs already exist in the state and how they are funded.

Before Ritz can ask for the legislature to focus on preschool, though, she said she wants lawmakers to lower the mandatory school age from 7 and fully fund full-day Kindergarten.

“We face the obstacle that we don’t even have Kindergarten in place yet, so I’m hoping that the legislature will see the value of making sure that students attend school at age 5,” she said.

Cost is likely to be the most-cited concern with public preschool.

With the federal sequester kicking in, funding was cut to the federally subsidized Head Start preschool programs in Indiana and the rest of the country.  Locally, Indianapolis Public Schools recently put on hold a plan that would have spent $6.7 million to send 1,400 4-year-olds to preschool.  Concerns about the program’s efficiency were cited by the IPS school board.

Mycole Burnett, a mother of two children who attend Head Start programs, believes every Hoosier child should be given the chance to attend a quality, free preschool.

“Anything that will help our kids prosper on, maybe go off to college would be great,” Burnett said.

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