Indiana's progress in quality early learning has been frustratingly slow compared with most states. The latest survey by the National Institute for Early Education Research places the state second to last for access to state-funded preschool, making even small steps forward worth noting.
Early Learning Indiana announced grants last week for eight ministry-based programs, including the early learning program at Fort Wayne's Saint Therese Catholic School, where the money will cover the cost of a playground fence, anti-scald valves on hand-washing sinks, background checks for new employees and ongoing professional development.
Those might seem like basic investments, but they are critical. The investments in building, operations and program improvements at Saint Therese and the other church-based programs will allow them to join or advance on the state's Paths to Quality child-care rating system. Registered ministries – a classification of the state's voucher-supported child-care system – have less-restrictive standards than licensed child-care centers and public school-based programs. Encouraging them to strive for a higher level on the rating system is key to raising the quality of early learning in Indiana.
The National Institute for Early Education Research notes only 2 percent of Indiana 4-year-olds are enrolled in state-funded preschool.
“Indiana also has few policies in place to support high-quality preschool, meeting just three of (the institute's) 10 minimum quality standards benchmarks,” according to the Rutgers-based institute.
It's not for lack of education dollars. Indiana spends $60 million annually on testing students in grades 3 through 10. Making access to high-quality early learning a priority would go a long way in improving those test results.