Source: The Corydon Democrat

Pence's education plan has some merit
My Opinion

by Alan Stewart

December 17, 2013

The broad education plan presented within a rock’s throw from the office of this newspaper last week by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence was full of rah-rah and some decent ideas.

Pence proposed a lot during his 30-minute speech in the former House of Representatives room of the First State Capitol Building: a voucher pre-kindergarten program for low-income families, creating an Indiana Teacher Innovation Fund to support teachers who improve student outcomes through innovative work in the classroom, supporting teachers who move to under-performing public schools and charter schools serving low-income students, improving charter school performance by allowing charter school networks to manage their funds with the same flexibility as public school districts, re-purposing unused educational facilities for new corporations and charter schools, improving technical education, increasing the number of dropout recovery schools for adults who never completed high school and creating a performance-based program to equip under-skilled adults for jobs in today’s economy.

Of all of those, the one that makes the most sense and would probably bring the most bang for its buck locally (charter schools operate mostly in more urban areas) would be the preschool voucher program for lower income families.

As The Indianapolis Star pointed out last month, the Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey shows 60 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds in Indiana did not attend preschool from 2009 through 2011. The same report shows that nearly 400,000 children in Indiana younger than age 8 — about 50 percent of all children in the age group — live in low-income families.

Pence banged home the point last week that 197 years ago Indiana was the first state in the Union to offer free public education to its residents; but, today, Indiana is one of only nine states that does not use state funds to provide education before kindergarten. Indiana also does not require students to attend kindergarten, not requiring students to start school until age 7.

Both of those situations need to change. They must change.

Through the generosity of the Harrison County Community Foundation, which is helping fund the project, pre-kindergarten education is becoming a reality here locally. We applaud the HCCF and local school officials for jumping ahead of the curve and recognizing the local need.

Now, instead of being in a wait-and-see-what-other-states-do mode, Indiana as a state needs to act. Unfortunately, we really do have to wait and see since 2014 is a non-budget year. That means the state legislature probably won’t give Pence’s ideas much more than a passing glance at least until the 2015 session.

Our representatives need to get the ball rolling as soon as possible and, with that, start looking at ways to fund the project, regardless of the short session. Students starting school at a disadvantage generally slip further and further behind with each passing year.

When it comes to our students, 197 years is long enough to wait for early childhood education.