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June 14, 2014

FLASHPOINT: Hoosier children deserve more than just a photo op

TERRE HAUTE — Earlier this year the state legislature approved a pilot program for early childhood education. Prior to the law’s passage, Indiana trailed Mississippi and was one of only nine states not providing state funding for pre-K education programs.

Though the program is less ambitious than programs I’ve advocated for, it is still an important step for Hoosier students and one that I supported.

Having spent nearly 30 years at the front of classrooms in Indiana, I have seen firsthand the positive effects of early childhood learning.

We know that children who attend a quality pre-K program are more likely to graduate high school, attend college and earn a higher income over their lifetime. It’s estimated that for every $1 invested in a pre-K program, there are $13 in benefits returned to the public like savings generated from lower incarceration rates and Hoosiers earning higher incomes. Quality pre-K saves every Hoosier money.

Knowing these benefits, it is no surprise that many people hurried to take credit for the new policy. Gov. Pence considered it one of his key accomplishments and was quick to call it a historic moment when he signed the bill into law surrounded by the children set to benefit.

Now, after the cameras quit rolling and the microphones are turned off, the Pence administration quietly confirmed the newly-approved pre-K pilot program would not be implemented this year.

It was easy to take credit. It was easy to stage photo ops and distribute press releases. Delivering on what you promised to Hoosiers and their families is how elected officials are measured. Results are what Hoosiers rightfully expect.

With the hopes of getting newly eligible Hoosier preschoolers into classrooms this fall firmly in the rear view mirror, what assurances do we have this program will ever get off the ground? Hoosier families are right to be skeptical.

Even now the governor is sending mixed signals on when the program will launch. What does it say about the priorities of the governor and statehouse Republicans when we can dole out billions of dollars in corporate welfare without delay, but can’t implement a simple pilot program that sets Hoosier children up for success without significant setbacks?

We can’t pretend everything is fine at dinner. We need some leadership from our governor and not just in the form of a photo op. It makes one wonder; if the governor put equal effort into ensuring the timely implementation of this pre-K program as he did putting into ceremonial bill signings, maybe our state’s children would be one step closer to being able to participate in a pre-K program.

Sen. Skinner represents Senate District 38, including Vigo County and portions of Clay County.


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