Free Pre-K could be expanded after legislators see high demand

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Nov. 30, 2015) -- Legislative leaders say expanded funding for Pre-K programs is likely to come up in future sessions, now that demand is being seen statewide.

The debate over funding for early childhood education has gone on for years at the Indiana Statehouse, most recently ending in a $10 million pilot program in five counties.

That pilot program was expanded in Marion County, thanks to more than $4 million in city funding and another matching $4 million from private companies.

"We estimate there are about 7,000 children who need to be served," said Andrew Cullen, the VP of Public Policy for United Way of Central Indiana.

Cullen said his organization received more than 5,000 applications for the pilot program, with only room for 1,500 children. That means 70 percent of kids were turned away from the program.

Those staggering statistics are one reason legislative leaders said they will take up the Pre-K issue again in the 2017 budget session, if not earlier.

"I think we’re receiving more converts daily that (believe) early education is an important piece, especially for low income families, in the development of their children," Speaker of the House Brian Bosma said.

Bosma said that while it is possible the issue could come up in the 2016 session, it is more likely to be taken up as an expansion to the pilot program in 2017, when it is scheduled to run out. He also said that universal Pre-K is unlikely, due to the extreme costs associated with that, but that low-income families in particular were more likely to get help.

"There’s a growing belief that this is an important piece to successful development of citizens (and) that early intervention ... makes a difference," Bosma said.

State Sen. Luke Kenley also said he believed the 2017 session could bring more funding for such programs. Kenley and the Senate had been less positive about Pre-K funding in earlier sessions, opting instead to use the pilot program to study demand for and the success of early childhood education.

Cullen said he was excited to hear legislators agreeing that Pre-K is becoming more important. He pointed to national statistics that getting kids into school early can help solve vital community issues.

"According to most studies, (children in Pre-K are) 70 percent less likely to commit a violent crime in their lifetime, so if we really want to get to some of the root causes that plague our society, early childhood education is the way to go," Cullen said.

For more information on the state's pilot Pre-K program, go to the link here.

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