TERRE HAUTE —
Pretend that Charles Dickens is about to become Indiana’s next governor.
(Yes, the famed British author would be 200 years old. And, yes, he’s been dead since 1870. But suspend your disbelief momentarily, and work with me. Assume Dickens is in his prime, at age 31, just as he was when he wrote, “A Christmas Carol.”)
The top item on Gov. Dickens’ agenda would be to start funding preschool education in the Hoosier state. No doubt.
One of Dickens’ primary objectives in writing that Christmas classic often gets overshadowed by scenes of Ebenezer Scrooge confronting his selfishness, cold-hearted deeds and regrets. Instead, focus on the Ghost of Christmas Present and the two children he reveals — Ignorance and Want. Most kids in 1840s London lived in abject poverty, received little or no schooling, and died more frequently than adults. Dickens believed free public education was the ticket to breaking that cycle of poverty, and hoped his novel would illustrate its importance.
In “A Christmas Carol,” the Ghost of Christmas Present introduces Scrooge to twin children. “This boy is Ignorance. The girl is Want,” the ghost tells the infamous curmudgeon. “Beware of them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware of this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is ‘Doom,’ unless the writing be erased.” In a nutshell, a lack of education leads to poverty. Education is the remedy.
Twenty-first century Indiana is not 19th-century London, yet the poverty cycle exists here and now. Forty-eight percent of Hoosier public-school kids qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. In Vigo County, 54 percent of kids receive those lunches. The numbers have steadily risen for years.
Meanwhile, Indiana remains one of just 11 states with no public funding for preschool education, and is the most populous of those. All of our neighboring states publicly fund pre-kindergarten to some degree. The concept is not cheap, and its implementation would be complex, given the existing network of private and faith-based preschools, as well as the federally funded Head Start program. Still, the long-term benefits would offset the up-front costs and the logistical hurdles.
In the past four years, the state has committed resources to far less proven education “reforms.” By contrast, the merits of pre-K education are widely documented. At a summit in Georgia this year, the National Institute for Early Education Research offered statistics on the impact of public preschool availability there. Kids living in poverty, who don’t attend preschool, often begin kindergarten behind their peers academically and socially. With preschool, classroom performance and behavior improved throughout their school years, with less special-education demands. High school and college graduation rates improved. As adults, those students earned better paychecks, adopted healthier lifestyles, and were less likely to be incarcerated or receiving public assistance.
In the long-run, taxpayers received a $12.90 return for every $1 spent publicly to educate Georgia preschoolers, according to that study.
As with London, Indiana is not Georgia. But this isn’t an apples-to-oranges comparison. Kids are kids, and “Hoosier common sense” — the mantra politicians love to invoke — suggests that Indiana could use more high school and college graduates, who generally help make this a better place to live. Perhaps the best news in the wake of last month’s election is that state funding of preschool initiatives has reached some legislators’ radar screens.
The actual governor-elect, Mike Pence, has voiced support for broadening access to pre-kindergarten education for low-income kids. House Speaker Brian Bosma mentioned some structure of state-funded preschool (perhaps using vouchers for use at public or private facilities) as a priority, heading into the 2013 session of the General Assembly. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce recognizes those long-run economic rewards ($12.90 back for every $1 paid), and is urging the Legislature to fund public preschool, targeting the neediest families.
State-backed, full-day kindergarten — accessible to all families who want it — is still a new concept in Indiana. This week, Gov. Mitch Daniels announced that a state grant program will distribute $190 million to expand full-day kindergarten for the next two years. Kindergarten enrollment — still not mandatory in Indiana — jumped 19 percent in 2011-12.
Obviously, Hoosiers are just getting warmed up to the full-day K idea; paying to educate 4-year-old preschoolers (routine practice elsewhere) sounds even edgier here.
Nonetheless, it makes sense — economically, socially and academically — today, and 20 years from now.
Indiana is not an affluent state, and some well-intentioned proposals aren’t affordable. A universal, state-funded preschool program won’t likely happen soon, but a targeted system with well-screened, well-staffed facilities is doable.
Terry Spradlin, director of education policy at the Indiana University Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, crunched some numbers this week to help explain a feasible preschool program. Indiana is home to 88,691 4-year-olds, according to the 2010 Census. If the state focused on the 48.2 percent receiving free or reduced lunches, and subtracted those already enrolled in special education preschools and federally funded Head Start classes, approximately 30,000 at-risk children would remain. Based on the per-student preschool costs in surrounding states, Indiana would pay $122 million to $140 million, Spradlin estimated.
Then again, using that $12.90-to-$1 payback formula, Hoosier taxpayers would save more than $1 billion through those kids’ adulthood.
“We will reap those benefits for years to come once we implement those programs,” Spradlin said.
Charles Dickens would smile.
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TERRE HAUTE —
Pretend that Charles Dickens is about to become Indiana’s next governor.
Vigo County high school team in FIRST Robotics’ Crossroads Regional
Drivers of remote-controlled robots will match skills, similar to those used in basketball and soccer, to score in the FIRST Robotics’ Crossroads Regional on the campus of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.
Benefit planned for daycare fire victim
Veronica Gray never met 19-month-old Emma Lloyd, but when she learned about the child’s tragic death in a Sullivan day care fire, she had to do something.
Winter’s costs add up for Vigo
While still within county and city budgets, the snowstorms of January and February were more costly than a year ago.
Mayor Bennett threatens veto of consultant funding
Mayor Duke Bennett is threatening to veto a measure before the Terre Haute City Council that would transfer money into the council’s budget allowing the body to again hire a financial consultant.
Semitrailer fire slows eastbound traffic on Interstate 70
Traffic on Interstate 70 was slowed Thursday afternoon by a semitrailer fire just east of Terre Haute.
Tests show Skittles had no unusual chemicals
The Indiana State Health Department has given Skittles a clean bill of health.
No problems reported in early 10-digit phone dialing
Just be grateful you (probably) aren’t using a rotary telephone these days.
Cloverdale woman sentenced to 10 years in molestation/neglect case
A Cloverdale woman received a 10-year prison sentence Thursday after pleading guilty to child molesting and neglect of a defendant in Vigo Superior Court 3.
College students spend alternative spring break helping in Vigo County
Pruning in the orchard and preparing plants for the garden has been part of the experience for a group of Minnesota students who are spending this week as an alternative spring break at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.
MARK BENNETT: How you approach the day will influence if you are a ‘morning person’
I can still see the stacks of coins, 40 cents in each, arranged on the dining room table.
Area Plan Department considering raising fees
The Vigo County Area Planning Department is exploring the possibility of raising the fees for its services.
Tuesday night crash leads to arrest on drug charges
A Terre Haute man was arrested on drug-related charges after a one-car accident Tuesday night in Clay County.
Clock ticking on downtown TIF district
The sun is setting on Terre Haute’s downtown tax increment finance district, which city economic development officials say has been crucial to downtown revitalization, following action this week from the Indiana General Assembly.
Lay pastor files guilty plea in child sex case
A Terre Haute man has pleaded guilty to seven felonies in connection with a child molestation that allegedly involved the man’s wife as well.
Man gets 1 year probation for child, animal neglect
A Vigo County man has been sentenced to one year on formal probation after pleading guilty to housing children and animals in a filthy house.
Three-vehicle crash on U.S. 41 injures three
Three people received minor injuries and one motorist was cited following a three-vehicle crash on U.S. 41 at Springhill Drive at 9:59 a.m. Wednesday.
Sullivan daycare fire victim ID’d
Sullivan County authorities have released the name of a 1 1⁄2-year-old girl who died Tuesday morning in a Sullivan County daycare fire.
Sullivan Daycare fire: Broken hearts
A 11⁄2-year-old girl tragically died early Tuesday morning as the result of a fire at Waterman’s Wonderland Daycare on Sullivan’s south side.
Sony DADC cutting 34 distribution jobs here
Sony DADC is halting product distribution operations from its Terre Haute plant at a cost of 34 jobs, a company official said Tuesday.
Bill ends automatic license suspensions for many crimes
Unpaid parking fines, falling behind on child support, drunken driving: So many offenses trigger a suspended driver’s license in Indiana that more than a half-million Hoosiers have lost their driving privileges. In fact, driving on a suspended license is the most common charged offense, prosecutors say.
Indiana same-sex marriage tax benefits nixed by Senate
Gay rights advocates said they’re deeply concerned about a split in state policy from a new federal approach to taxes recognizing same-sex marriage that the Indiana Senate approved 41-6 on Tuesday.
‘Slow’ start to Illinois early voting
Early voting is “slow” in Clark and Edgar counties in Illinois, election officials said Tuesday, even with the first-time permitting of 17-year-olds to register and vote in the March 18 primary election.
Brazil girl badly burned in Monday fire
A 6-year-old girl suffered second- and third-degree burns to her lower extremities in a Monday morning fire at 313 S. Vine St. in Brazil.
Helping out Hoosiers: 181st Intelligence Wing launches first aerial domestic support mission
The roar of the jets is long gone but Airmen from the 181st Intelligence Wing Indiana Air National Guard still stand watch for the Hoosiers of Indiana.
Indiana Attorney General launches statewide food drive
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller launched the statewide March Against Hunger food drive competition Tuesday in Terre Haute.
Shots fired in home invasion, robbery
Shots were fired early Tuesday morning in what police are calling a home invasion and armed robbery in Terre Haute.
Seminar covers college readiness for students with disabilities
Registrations are still being accepted for an upcoming seminar on college readiness and transition for students with disabilities and learning difficulties.
- Road closing: March 5, 2014
Ablond bundle of energy on four legs showed off his energy Monday afternoon at the Vigo County Annex.
Vigo Schools to have long days in April
The Vigo County School Corp. has announced its plan for snow makeup days.
- More News Headlines
- Vigo County high school team in FIRST Robotics’ Crossroads Regional