Preschool has proven benefits, but adequate funding in limbo
By Christin Nance Lazerus firstname.lastname@example.org February 23, 2013 11:04PM
Updated: March 25, 2013 6:22AM
Both President Barack Obama and Indiana legislators have spoken recently about the importance of investing in early childhood education, but the willingness of government to shell out the money is up in the air.
The data, however, is clear cut. Research says children who participate in quality preschool programs have better success in school, earn higher wages, and less likely to enter the criminal justice system.
The federal government funds Head Start, Early Head Start and Child Care and Development Block Grants to help children in poverty, but the funding levels are far below the number of kids who qualify for the services. And the 2012 Quality of Life Indicators report says the numbers are rising locally: 52 percent of Lake County children were eligible for free and reduced lunch in 2010 compared to 36 percent in 2000, while Porter County’s rate more than doubled, going from 15 percent to 31 percent.
One in six eligible kids receives child care vouchers. The waiting list increased by nearly 58 percent in Northwest Indiana between 2000 and 2010, with 1,251 children compared to 791.
About half of all eligible kids are able to enroll in Head Start, while only 4 percent of eligible infants and toddlers are able to enroll in Early Head Start due to funding levels.
Sandy Kauffman, president of Geminus Corp., said children entering school without preschool have a big task ahead of them, particularly if they are in poverty.
“One of the things that is unique about Head Start, much more than even preschool, is we involve family to a large extent,” Kauffman said. “Parents are required to participate and they are encouraged to be involved in program governance.”
Kauffman said Geminus employs quite a few Head Start parents, since so many get inspired to restart their own education while participating. He recalled a Head Start board member who was in a homeless shelter when her kids started in the program. Now, she has an undergraduate degree.
“Somebody once described it as a welfare to work program before there was one,” Kauffman said. “It has that kind of impact. Parents can make a big difference, and they gain knowledge in how to help kids learn.”
“There are good stories out there and things are going well for families,” she said.
Being prepared for school is more important that ever now since Indiana students must be able to read at a third-grade level in order to advance to the next grade. Kauffman said Head Start concepts need to be reinforced in schools.
“A lot of what is learned has to be maintained and how well we maintain that level of engagement,” Kauffman said. “We can’t forget to maintain those skills once kids are in the school system. Education is important in third grade, junior high, all the way through.”