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Summit focuses on preschool as Indiana debate simmers

As state lawmakers debated the future of Gov. Mike Pence's preschool bill Wednesday, local leaders gathered in Fort Wayne to discuss the importance of early childhood learning.

More than 140 business, education and community leaders attended Wednesday's Early Childhood Learning Summit in Fort Wayne.

The summit included a live webcast from Robert Dugger, founder of ReadyNation, a business partnership that focuses on the link between early childhood education and economic success.

A crowd of 500 people attended Dugger's presentation in Indianapolis and 10 Hoosier cities, including Fort Wayne, hosted forums to listen to his message about how early childhood education is imperative to raising responsible, ready-to-work adults.

"Quality is critical. We need to graduate as many ready-for-life 18-year-olds as possible, and the starting point of that is delivering ready-for-school 5-year-olds," Dugger said.

Dugger said as the state moves forward with a preschool funding plan, it should be available to students in public, private and religious schools.

Pence's bill would create a state-funded preschool pilot program for low-income 4-year-olds.

As many as 25,000 Indiana 4-year-olds do not have access to high-quality preschools, according to state data.

"I want a society in which my grandsons are working with the most talented people with the most talented people in the world, not burdened by a lot of people who can't compete effectively," Dugger said. "For me, it makes economic sense for all kids to have the best and high quality early care and education … it should be available to all."

For more on this story, see Thursday's print edition of The Journal Gazette or visit after 3 a.m. Thursday.