CEEP policy brief: Inaction on funding pre-K would put Hoosier children at disadvantage
A new policy brief issued by the Center for Evaluation & Education Policy at Indiana University with the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community at IU builds a strong case for Indiana to act now on providing prekindergarten programs. "Is Indiana Ready for State-Funded Pre-K Programs? Revisited" is a follow-up to a 2006 CEEP and IIDC brief on the same subject also calling for action.
"While it is encouraging the state legislature has intensified its discussion on funding a high-quality prekindergarten program in Indiana, there is still some reticence from policymakers despite the highly compelling evidence about the academic gains and potential long-term social and economic benefits of this early education program," said Terry Spradlin, director for education policy and the High School Survey of Student Engagement at CEEP.
"Research has clearly shown that early high-quality education opportunities in the lives of our most vulnerable children yield the greatest return on investment," said Michael Conn-Powers, director of the Early Childhood Center at IIDC.
Spradlin and Conn-Powers are co-authors of the report, along with Chris Wodicka, CEEP graduate assistant.
The Indiana State Senate Education Committee may vote Wednesday on House Bill 1004. The bill, which overwhelmingly passed the House, would establish an early education pilot program. If the bill passes into law, Indiana would directly fund preschool for the first time.
Most estimates indicate well more than half of eligible Indiana children attend no prekindergarten. Nationally, the matter received more attention when President Barack Obama called for helping states fund Pre-K programs during his State of the Union address Feb. 12.
The policy brief is direct in assessing the need for pre-K. Numerous studies show a strong correlation between prekindergarten and school readiness. Assessments show the resulting academic gains offset public funding by a later reduction of public expenditures on social services, costs associated with crime and incarceration, and a rise in worker productivity resulting in more tax revenue.
"The research is compelling that high-quality prekindergarten programs are a sound investment that generates revenue and tax savings that far exceed the program costs," the authors write. "Hoosier children will be playing catch-up to close achievement gaps with the peers from across the nation if Indiana continues to fail to act in this area," they conclude.
The authors recommend that evidence-based, high-quality pre-K programs for at-risk children should be a top priority.
"Providing access to any child care or early education program does not guarantee success," Conn-Powers said. "Programs must have a strong educational focus and high-quality teaching."
The brief also makes several recommendations for structuring the program to ensure quality:
- A state accountability and funding framework focused on school readiness and high-quality early education practices is necessary to ensure an optimal return on the investment.
- The program should be benchmarked to national accreditation standards, such as that of the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
- Curricula should be evidence-based, targeting important developmentally appropriate school readiness goals.
- Prekindergarten should be the subject of ongoing assessments and monitoring.
- To ensure that clear educational goals emphasizing school readiness are met, an independent, third-party program evaluation organization should examine prekindergarten outcomes. Such an evaluation would be particularly important if the state begins funding with a limited program.
"There is no certainty the Indiana General Assembly will act this session to have Indiana become the 40th state in the nation to fund pre-K programs," Spradlin said. "It may take additional time to build full legislative support, much like the long debate on full-day kindergarten. However, there is little doubt that this is a sound policy decision for them to make to complement the many other beneficial early education strategies that have been put into place to support student success."
CEEP, one of the country's leading nonpartisan education policy and program evaluation centers, promotes and supports rigorous evaluation and research primarily, but not exclusively, for educational, human services and nonprofit organizations. Center projects address state, national and international education questions. CEEP is part of the IU School of Education.
The Early Childhood Center is one of seven centers at the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community, Indiana University. The Early Childhood Center engages in research, program evaluation, education and service to advance early education practices that welcome, include and bring about successful school readiness outcomes for all children and their families.