Indiana’s preschool program could grow to serve nearly every county this year.
House Education Committee chair Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis) is backing a bill that would expand the state’s On My Way Pre-K program to the entire state. Right now, only preschool providers in 20 counties with a level three rating or higher on the state’s Paths To Quality system can qualify.
But Behning’s bill would change the location limits for eligible providers.
“We’re still keeping the quality at level three or four, but we’re no longer saying it has to be in those 20 counties this is now available statewide,” he says.
Early childhood education advocates have pressed lawmakers to make the move leading up to this year’s session, and the state recently received a federal grant to study and build up birth through five early learning systems in the state.
Rep. Jim Lucas (R-Seymour) says he’s concerned about a potential increase in costs, especially those passed along to taxpayers.
But an analysis by the Legislative Services Agency says what the state already sets aside to fund the program – $22 million a year – should be enough to cover the expansion. Some counties won't see an immediate impact, because of a lack of quality providers.
President and CEO of the nonprofit Early Learning Indiana Maureen Weber says it’s also just worth more investment, especially as more studies point to the benefits of high quality programs.
“You’re going to see opportunities for them to be developing language and literacy skills, numeracy skills as well, and then you know working on social emotional and other kinds of skills,” Weber says.
An economic impact report released last fall says Indiana loses more than $1 billion annually because of families’ inadequate access to early child education programs. Businesses and some communities around the state have started to rally behind high quality childcare and preschool centers to support workforce needs.
The committee plans to vote on the bill next week.