The feature below, written by Ann Murtlow, was featured in the Indianapolis Business Journal on Saturday, January 28, 2017.


We read with interest Cecil Bohanon’s and Bill Styring’s recent commentary about pre-K expansion [BOHANON & STYRING: Pre-K isn’t as effective as proponents say, Jan. 16]. We appreciate the questions they raised to lawmakers: Do government pre-K programs work? Do we want to see government-as-parent? What does pre-K buy?

These are important questions, given that nearly 27,000 low-income Hoosier 4-year-olds are not enrolled in a high-quality, pre-K program.

On behalf of a broad and bipartisan coalition of pre-K advocates, I can confidently respond to these questions.

Do government pre-K programs work?

We’ve studied extensively what has worked—and what hasn’t—in other states and in federal programs. Nearly every pre-K program that has shown unimpressive or mixed results was of low-quality. Studies and ample data over decades have shown the positive results of high-quality pre-K on short-term outcomes, such as kindergarten readiness, and long-term outcomes like higher graduation rates and better lifetime earnings. High-quality pre-K is critical, and unlike some state and federal programs, Indiana is putting quality at the center of pre-K expansion.

Do we want to see government-as-parent?

Of course not. Families are a student’s first and best teacher. High-quality pre-K is not designed to replace quality learning that takes place at home, but rather enhance it so students emerge from programs prepared to succeed in kindergarten. What’s more, high-quality pre-K strengthens Hoosier families by providing a positive educational and social environment for kids while parents are at work. Parents can be more productive workers knowing their children are receiving a quality education, which is one of the chief reasons why the business community has embraced expansion.

What does pre-K buy?

A recent study from an Indiana University economist found a $4 return for every $1 spent on pre-K. Indiana can either invest in high-quality pre-K for low-income children today or pay tens of millions more in special education, remediation and criminal justice costs down the road.

We’re encouraged by the bipartisan support from Indiana lawmakers for expansion of quality pre-K. We’re delighted that seven out of 10 Indiana voters favor pre-K for low-income families across our state. We agree with Mr. Bohanon’s and Mr. Styring’s point that “maybe this [pre-K] train has already left the station.” It has, and it’s on track to bring positive economic outcomes for our state, and academic and social benefits for our children.

Ann D. Murtlow, president and CEO
United Way of Central Indiana