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September 15, 2013

HAYDEN: State senator wants to lower mandatory school age to 5 years old

(Continued)

The argument on this side of ocean has long been a different view. Early childhood education advocates here say early schooling can have a profoundly good impact on children’s later success in school and go a long way to closing the achievement gap between rich and poor. 

Lanane is particularly interested in closing that achievement gap, which shows up time and time again for school children in Indiana — one of 11 states that doesn’t put public funds into pre-kindergarten programs. 

Earlier this month, the state Department of Education released the results of the IREAD-3 test, which measures the reading proficiency of third-graders. Ninety-four percent of white students passed the test. Only 81 percent of black students did. Only 74 percent of children who don’t speak English as their native language passed IREAD-3, and that was only after students who failed the test the first time received intensive remediation. That kind of gap echoes on every standardized test administered to Hoosier school children.

Of course, for the conversation on early childhood education to go forward, it will require the blessing of the Republicans, who hold a super-majority in both the House and Senate. Lanane may have a prayer: It was House Republicans who tried, but failed, to get $14 million put into the state budget to pay for a two-year pilot project to provide a high-quality, pre-kindergarten program for children from low-income families. 

Money is the big stumbling block: Lanane estimates it may cost up to $200 million a year for local schools to offer pre-kindergarten to the estimated 180,000 children who’d be eligible. That’s a fraction of the $7 billion that now goes to Indiana's K-12 schools. 

Here’s another piece of the conversation that may be coming on this issue: President Obama wants to spend about $75 billion to expand pre-kindergarten education nationwide, with much of the money coming from a federal tax increase of 94 cents a pack on cigarettes. States could tap into that national account if they agreed to contribute a portion of the cost for expanding early childhood education in their schools. 

— Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com 

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