Our Sunday Centerpiece story is a look at the status of early learning in Indiana and, not surprisingly, the state comes up short. Indiana remains one of just 12 states without state-funded preschool programs. This is a state, after all, where politicians remain unconvinced of the value of full-day kindergarten.
I didn't explore the reasons for Indiana's poor record in the article, but there are several. One is that the early childhood community hasn't done an effective job of putting forth a unified voice for quality child care and preschool. Some faith-based providers and home-based child care providers complain about regulations intended to protect children and improve quality, which serves to discourage lawmakers from enacting reasonable reform.
There is also an inevitable tension between early childhood educators who support degree requirements for preschool teachers and those who believe certification is adequate. That's not an insurmountable barrier to progress, but it does discourage legislators from wanting to get involved in the fray.
The biggest reason for Indiana's lackluster record in early learning is that those who speak for children have no political clout. They are not business interests represented by lobbying groups. They tend to make very little money, so they don't have deep pockets to make campaign contributions. With the exception of preschool teachers in the public schools, they don't even have the advantage of union clout. In short, it's easy for lawmakers to ignore them.
I cited the work of Art Rolnick, a Federal Reserve economist, in the Sunday article. In an interview recently with a Wisconsin newspaper, Rolnick points out the problems with investing in economic development:
"For many years, I had been very critical about the ways cities and states around the country promote business development. I've argued that, when states try to just lure each other's businesses across state lines, that from a national perspective, no new jobs, just move them around, that billions of dollars around the country are going for that economic bidding war that's zero public investment."
He goes on to point out that investment in preschool represents economic development with a high public return.
That should be enough to convince lawmakers to invest in early learning, but the promise of long-term gains carry little weight against the political clout and campaign contributions of the business owners seeking tax breaks and incentives.