Universal Pre-K? Indiana Early Learning experts weigh in.

Politics

INDIANAPOLIS — President Joe Biden is calling for a federal and state partnership to provide universal Pre-Kindergarten for all three- and four-year-old children.

The Biden Administration estimates it will save the average family $13,000.

“I’m concerned about quality,” said Indiana House Education Committee Chair State Rep. Bob Behning. “We’d rather have a deliberative quality program roll out rather than just throw out money and not use it judiciously and not have a positive impact for kids.”

Indiana has an “On My Way Pre-K” program that provides quality level 3 and 4 Pre-K for low-income families. Level 4 is the highest rated.

“If you look at data, unless you have a real solid program, you could actually shoot yourself in the foot,” said Behning.

COVID-19 caused a major drop in Pre-K enrollment. Right now, the state knows one-third of Hoosiers under the age of five are in quality Pre-K. The rest could come into Kindergarten unprepared.

“A lot of times people think about it as the ABC’s and the 123’s and while those are super important for children to learn during their early years, we find it really important that they learn things like being able to collaborate with their peers,” said Erin Kissling, Vice President of Early Learning Practice and Policy with Early Learning Indiana.

Kissling said stronger early learning leads to a stronger K-12 system. Right now, Indiana’s “On My Way Pre-K” program is only offered to 4-year-old- children. Biden’s plan would include kids ages 3 and 4.

“Learning really starts at birth and so I think the opportunities that we present for children, adding 3-year-olds would certainly be helpful for the child,” said Kissling.

Behning said Pre-K has been an Indiana House Republican priority for years. He’s happy to see it discussed nationwide but remains cautious.

“I understand what the federal proposal is we will see what ends up coming out in the end,” said Behning. “Nothing is free in life, let’s face it. Somebody is paying for it at some level.”

The Biden Administration said the plan would include a tax hike on the wealthiest one percent of Americans. The president vowed not to raise taxes for those making less than $400,000 per year.

Want to learn more about Indiana’s “On My Way Pre-K” program? Click here. Applications for 2021-22 available May 3, 2021.

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