News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion

March 23, 2014

EDITORIAL: Perfect place for pilot pre-K

Vigo County offers state ideal elements for initial program

TERRE HAUTE — National political experts closely watch Vigo County each presidential election. The county possesses an amazing track record of voting for the winning candidate, with a local majority favoring the eventual president in all but two elections since 1892.

The analysts speculate that Vigo County demographics broadly represent America.

Likewise, that population mix makes Vigo County an excellent choice to test the state’s new pilot pre-kindergarten program. The small-scale project represents Indiana’s first venture into state-funded preschool education. Gov. Mike Pence wisely pushed for program, and the General Assembly hesitantly approved the idea, allocating $10 million for the trial run. With the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration overseeing, five counties will be chosen as sites for the program that awards vouchers to families of low-income 4-year-olds.

Though tiny, the initiative marks a breakthrough for Indiana, one of just 10 states not funding any preschool programs. Early-childhood education is seen as a primary tool to break the cycle of poverty, brightening the chances for needy kids to become successful students and citizens. Pence deserves praise for not giving up on his proposal, even as many of his fellow Republicans in the Legislature see it as a step toward a “budget-buster” statewide preschool program. Those skeptics’ view is short-sighted. Indiana pays a high price later when at-risk children grow into adults with higher tendencies to face unemployment, spend time in jail and require public assistance.

Child poverty remains a significant problem in west-central Indiana. Vigo County holds the state’s seventh-highest child poverty rate at 29 percent, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Parke County is right behind at 28.7 percent. In fact, all Indiana counties in the region — including Sullivan, Clay, Greene and Vermillion — top the 20 percent mark.

Vigo County uniquely represents this region, as well as the full state. The county’s poverty-stricken children live in both urban and rural settings. Terre Haute’s diversity mix nearly mirrors that of Indiana, with a slightly larger percentage of African-Americans than the state, but a smaller percentage of Latino residents. Vigo also has 34 child-care providers that qualify for the pilot program by receiving Level 3 or 4 ratings from the Indiana University Paths to Quality assessments.

The aim of the pilot venture is to not only help participating kids, but gauge its effectiveness before expanding the program. Vigo County offers the ideal elements to answer that question.

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