Five years ago, Indianapolis civic leaders set out to jump-start a statewide conversation about the importance of preschool. Today, we can say we achieved that goal — not just with the countless anecdotes we’ve heard about how access to early childhood education has helped families and set students on a path to success, but with years of data to back it up.
Yet, in Indianapolis and across the state, thousands of children — especially our city’s most vulnerable — still lack access to a quality preschool, putting them behind in reading and math compared to many of their peers and paving the way for a tough kindergarten transition. The Early Learning Advisory Council (ELAC) reports that of Marion County’s 13,675 4-year-olds, two-thirds were still in need of early childhood educational opportunities in 2019.
Over the last four years, we have asked Indiana lawmakers from both parties to work together to provide full funding so that every 4-year-old has access to an excellent preschool. In a state where children are not required to be in school until age 7, it might seem that expanding preschool is too lofty a goal. Estimates from ELAC suggest that it would cost nearly $215 million to help every child living in poverty in the city to attend a high-quality program, let alone offering high-quality preschool to all 4-year-olds.
But we also know it’s a worthwhile investment — according to Early Learning Indiana, every dollar spent on high-quality pre-K saves the state an estimated $4 on special education costs and remediation and grade retention, among other savings. Further, ensuring that families have access to quality preschool opportunities can help to disrupt the cycle of poverty, allowing parents to take advantage of workforce development and job training programs, and creating pathways to careers that provide a living wage.
That’s why we have worked to expand conversations occurring in Indianapolis between elected officials, business owners, and community leaders. Earlier this year, in partnership with the Indy Chamber and dozens of local organizations, we announced plans to holistically readdress the city’s economic development incentives structure, placing a greater emphasis on removing barriers to employment — barriers such as childcare and transportation.
Families are ready to take advantage of quality early childhood education opportunities, demonstrated by the over 3,100 who have taken advantage of preschool scholarships through the Indy Preschool Program. But it can be a challenge for those families that need help most, given the high financial burden. High-quality care in Indianapolis costs, on average, more than $9,000 per year, representing a significant chunk of a family’s income.
We want to welcome companies to Indianapolis that believe in our city’s future as much as we do. That’s why we’re not just focused on state lawmakers, but on our partners in the education and business communities, asking them to embrace bold strategies that will help to create a brighter future for Marion County.
A future where hardworking families don’t have to sacrifice their livelihoods so that their children have the same educational opportunities as their more affluent peers. A future where every child comes to kindergarten ready and excited to learn. A future where every corner of the city has an excellent, safe, affordable preschool.
Joe Hogsett is mayor of Indianapolis.
The season for Sharing and the Tully Fund
To help make early childhood education accessible to more families, IndyStar is focusing this year’s Season for Sharing campaign to provide grants in partnership with the Matthew L. Tully Memorial Fund. Matt Tully was a former IndyStar columnist who died last year after a long battle with cancer. He wrote passionately for the critical need for early childhood education.
Help us make a difference in central Indiana and considering giving to our Season for Sharing campaign.
The shared mission of IndyStar’s Our Children initiative and annual Season for Sharing campaign is to use the power of journalism to make a difference for Central Indiana youths. The Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust will match up to $25,000 in donations. All charitable donations are tax-deductible.
Go to indystar.com/ocdonate to learn how to donate online and to read stories about work being done to help children in our community. If you prefer to send a check, please mail to Central Indiana Community Foundation, Attn: Our Children, 615 N. Alabama St., Suite 300, Indianapolis, IN 46204. You also can donate by texting “SHARING” to 80888.