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Early learning dropouts
The State of Preschool 2012 report finds just 10 states spend no money on pre-K programs, most of them rural, sparsely populated states:
New Hampshire
North Dakota
South Dakota
Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Volunteer Pam Whitacre introduces preschool students from First Presbyterian Day School to Peanut, a screech owl, during a February visit to Fox Island. A national report again finds Indiana as one of just 10 states with no state-funded preschool program.

Preschool paralysis

If Gov. Mike Pence and Republican lawmakers made a show-and-tell presentation on their pledge to support preschool for Indiana children, an empty box would tell the story. In the recently ended session, they managed to accomplish nothing to support critically important early-learning programs.

House Bill 1004 is a hollow effort to establish an early-education pilot program. No dollars are earmarked to pay for it. The budget provides just $2 million a year in total preschool funding if a qualified program can raise matching funds to earn a share of that amount. As if to punctuate lawmakers’ failure, the 2012 State Preschool Yearbook was released Monday, once again consigning Indiana to the bottom of the list for allocating no state money to pre-K programs.

W. Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, lamented the decline of funding support for preschool last year. But at least most other states have an established framework to ramp up early learning when their economies improve. The Indiana bill just approved simply establishes an early learning advisory committee. An early learning commission established in 2004 by Gov. Joe Kernan was eliminated in 2005.

As a candidate, the governor repeatedly praised the Busy Bees Academy preschool in his hometown of Columbus. “High-quality early education programs can have immediate and long-term positive effects for our kids,” Pence said in his January State of the State address. “Let’s work together to expand incentives for Hoosiers to support this kind of innovative, community-driven pre-K effort for our low-income children.”

And when Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma mapped out the Republican House caucus’ legislative priorities last fall, early childhood education got an encouraging boost.

“The positive effects of early childhood education are becoming more and more evident,” Bosma said. “Most experts would agree that a strong educational foundation at an early age is a key factor in determining whether or not an individual will be successful later in life.”

At session’s end, however, there were no new preschool opportunities established. HB 1004 merely requires the state to measure how well high-quality child-care programs are doing to prepare students for school, giving responsibility for the task to the Division of Family Resources instead of the Indiana Department of Education, where Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz has been a persistent voice for early learning. Likewise, the matching grant funds are awarded through the child care division.

Make no mistake: If Republican lawmakers wanted to support quality early-learning programs for Indiana children, they could have done it.

They passed controversial right-to-work and voucher bills even when they didn’t enjoy a supermajority in each chamber. They found money this year for an income tax cut and voucher expansion. Their actions did not match their words on this issue. Any 4-year-old could see through the empty promise.