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The Journal Gazette

  • Nicole

  • Sampson

Friday, April 14, 2017 1:00 am

Investment in pre-K will pay off manyfold

David Nicole and John Sampson

David Nicole, left, is president and CEO of United Way of Allen County, and John Sampson is president and CEO of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership.

Dear Indiana lawmaker:

Hoosier preschoolers are no different from other American preschoolers.

From the days of the Perry Preschool Project in the 1960s until now, the benefits of quality early childhood education are clear: Children, particularly from low-income households and those who are English language-learners, enjoy a real and enduring benefit when they have access to quality pre-kindergarten programs. 

There is no need for continued study about the benefit of access to high-quality pre-K for Hoosier children. Access to such education has benefited children around the country, which is why most states, including those with which we compete, have already built viable state-funded pre-K systems.

Quality pre-K is not merely something nice to have, nor is it only a part of a social safety net that can be overlooked as a handout. It is critical to economic development.

Quality early childhood education is a foundation for solid educational and economic growth in any community.

Current learners are future earners, and shortchanging access to education in the name of financial expediency ultimately diminishes return on investment. We must invest at least $28 million annually in pre-K expansion to ensure our state's future success.

With a small increase of only $10 million, it will take 30 years to serve the 27,095 Hoosier 4-year olds.

We know that Hoosier parents work hard to provide for their children, often holding more than one job and juggling child care and transportation issues to build a solid and stable life. Within just the first year of the state's pilot On My Way Pre-K program, immediate benefits to financial stability and educational growth were visible.

These families living not far above the federal poverty guidelines saw their children hit kindergarten ready to learn and better prepared than their peers.

Additionally, more than half the parents took significant strides toward financial stability because of the presence of quality pre-K.

As stewards of our state's future, please consider:

1. A sizable increase in the dollars available for pre-K expansion.

2. Eliminating the requirement of a financial match to allow philanthropy to provide the needed social services to families living near the poverty line.

3. Increasing income thresholds that align with reduced lunch qualifications to allow a greater number of children access to quality pre-K.

Do not miss this chance to build a stronger state with better educational outcomes for our K-12 students and a more stable workforce. We know our children are special.

Let's make them a priority with a meaningful expansion of pre-K.