Preschool out of reach for many
By Christin Nance Lazerus email@example.com | 648-3086 August 23, 2012 6:34PM
Associate teacher Nyiesha Eaton (center) points out the colors of materials at the sensory table as she works with preschoolers at the Riley Child Center on the Purdue University Calumet campus in Hammond, Ind. Wednesday August 22, 2012. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 25, 2012 6:02AM
Preschoolers at Purdue University Calumet’s Riley Child Center fill their days with art projects, music, play time with friends. They even tend a garden.
Child’s play might seem like a simple concept, but research shows these experiences better prepare children to succeed once they enter school.
“Being on campus affords us the wonderful opportunity to provide children and families cutting-edge activities and experiences they can’t find elsewhere,” Riley Child Center director Tamra Bottomlee said. “Students and staff bring in new experiences and ideas to Riley every day.”
But for many Indiana children, their options for high-quality preschool are limited, because the state doesn’t devote any funding for prekindergarten programs.
Indiana is one of 11 states that don’t provide funding for early childhood education programs. A preschool program was noticeably absent from the state’s education reform efforts over the past two years.
But recent legislative efforts are nudging the state toward developing a plan.
In 2011, the General Assembly requested that the Indiana Department of Education study and develop recommendations for early childhood education. DOE spokeswoman Stephanie Sample said the plan is in the final vetting stages and will go before the Indiana Education Roundtable before the end of the year. The roundtable is comprised of representatives from the Department of Education, Workforce Development and the Commission on Higher Education, along with the governor.
In addition, state Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, sponsored legislation that will establish an early education roundtable advisory committee. Members will be appointed by the roundtable, and Sample said they likely will represent various areas of the state and political persuasions.
Last fall, the state couldn’t apply for federal Early Learning Challenge grants because it didn’t have a plan in place. That’s why Rogers felt it was necessary to establish the panel now.
“I know that dollars are a concern, but I thought maybe if we got a committee to work with Education Roundtable, which is chaired by the governor, they could get his ear and they could come up with dollars for early childhood education,” Rogers said.
Preschool too expensive
for many families
The state requires third-grade students to read at grade level before heading to the fourth grade, or they will be retained. With that in mind, the Indiana General Assembly provided more funding for full-day kindergarten this spring. But kindergarten is not mandatory in Indiana.
“But a lot depends on what happens before they enroll in kindergarten,” Rogers said. “Without preschool, a child can be at a disadvantage entering school.”
There are volumes of research showing the most intensive period of brain development occurs between birth and age 5. Many preschool programs encourage children to learn through play, which also helps their social and emotional development.
Low-income children and those with special needs can receive preschool through the federal Head Start and child-care vouchers. During the 2010-2011 school year, 18,171 children across the state were enrolled in Head Start and Early Head Start.
But for those who don’t qualify, quality preschool options are financially out of reach for many parents. Full-day preschool at the Riley Center costs $168 per week.
Rogers said some not-for-profits try to fill in the gaps by offering programs, but, “It’s kind of spotty.”
As a result, 61 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds in Indiana did not attend preschool in 2009-2010, according to the most recent Kids Count report by the Casey Foundation.
Even for those who qualify for child-care programs, the waiting list for the vouchers is long. The Kids Count report stated the 2010 waiting list averaged 910 children per month.
“In order to enroll a new child on the program, we must wait for an existing family to no longer need their vouchers,” said Indiana Family and Social Services Administration spokeswoman Marni Lemons. “The length of the wait list is impacted both by the limited budget and the number of people who have applied.”