INDIANAPOLIS, Ind (December 23, 2014) - The White House has released its "Playbook for Becoming an Early Learning Community," and it mentions the Circle City.
The playbook is essentially a guide for communities attempting to expand access to affordable, high quality early childhood education. It identifies possible funding sources and ways to convey the importance and benefits of pre-k programs to the community.
The recently released document uses a number of cities as examples for different phases of the plan. Step 2 is "Use data to share the basics on young children in your community." Indianapolis is commended for compiling data about pre-k, but the data shows that Indy is far from an A+.
According to data used in the playbook, the average cost of a quality preschool education is between $4,708 and $6,972. The federal poverty level for a family of four is $23,850, and in Indy, 37% of children younger than six are living in poverty. That means families living in poverty would need to dedicate between 20% and 29% of their income for early childhood education.
"The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers child care affordable if it does not exceed 10% of family income," according to the playbook.
Indianapolis' middle class also struggles to find affordable pre-k programs. According to other data referenced in the playbook, the average income for a family of four in Indianapolis is $41,800. Using the same formula, $4,180 would be considered affordable, less than that city's average cost.
In addition, only 15% of Marion County's 800 licensed early education providers are considered "high quality."
The playbook references these Indianapolis statistics, saying they were used to "demonstrate the need for greater access to high-quality early learning services for all of Indianapolis' children, especially those living in families with earnings at or below the median family income level."
You can view the entire Playbook for Becoming an Early Learning Community here: playbook for early learning
“It really highlights the work that Indianapolis has been doing to move forward with high quality preschool in our city and also highlights some of the work left to do,” says Emily Garrett, communications coordinator for Mayor Greg Ballard's office.
She says the city's recently approved pre-k plan coupled with the state's "On My Way Pre-K" pilot program will make a big difference in the community.
“It’s certainly not something that’s going to happen overnight, but we've seen incredible public support for pre-k and the Mayor’s proposal, and it’s something that we think has a strong chance of succeeding,” says Garrett.
Ted Maple, President and CEO of Early Learning Indiana says we've made a lot of strides as a city and as a state towards becoming a better place for young people to educated.
“We are encouraged to see more Level 3 and 4 Paths to Quality programs around the city and around the state," says Maple. "That number increases every year. So while there still isn't enough, that number is growing.”
Maple says these new state and local programs will encourage more pre-k providers to increase the quality of their services so they can be included in the programs. He says he's looking forward to putting a recent grant to good use and helping provide even more resources to the community.
“Our organization recently received a $20 million grant from Lilly Endowment and the goal of that is to work with partners around the state to build a system that’s high quality, because right now we don’t have enough capacity around the state to provide quality early care and education for all children," he says.
In the meantime, the state and local pre-k programs are being funded by a mix of public and private dollars.
“Indianapolis has been so fortunate to have strong support from the business community," says Garrett. "We’re seeing a lot of really high profile companies step forward and say, 'Yes, this is important. It’s something we value, and it will be important to our city going forward.'”
“The state program and the city program rely on that mix, on a match," says Maple. "I think that’s a good solution for now, but long term there does need to be significant government investment in this. It is school, and without that we won’t be able to reach the number of children we need to reach with high quality preschool.”
Both Garrett and Maple see Indianapolis' mention in the playbook as a sign we're on the right track.
"We know so much about the early years now," says Maple. "We know that there's great opportunity with young minds and it's exciting to see the community and the state get on board with this and start to make some investments."