We need bold action on early childhood education

The feature below, written by Ann Murtlow, ran in The Indianapolis Star on Tuesday, Feb. 11.

It defies reason. Child care vouchers for Indiana’s poorest children, a program administered by the state of Indiana, are not tied to quality standards. That means that public dollars intended to help the neediest and most vulnerable members of our community are funding child care centers that don’t even meet basic health and safety standards, let alone provide a stimulating environment designed to prepare kids to succeed in school.

But that may be about to change thanks to legislators who are putting the interests of children at the forefront by supporting House Bill 1036, one of two bills proposed to strengthen early child care. It is a strong beginning for a very worthwhile journey to a strong community through early investment in our kids.

Indiana is one of a few states that don’t fund early childhood education. For a state that focuses so much energy on creating a solid business environment, the omission is striking. Studies have shown that low-income children who receive a high-quality early childhood education are more likely to graduate from high school, earn significantly more in their lifetimes, and cost taxpayers significantly less in remediation and incarceration. To be successful long term, Indiana needs to invest in children now.

More about Early Childhood Education:

R.S.V.P.: The Economics of Early Education Summit, taking place Feb. 19, 2014

Take Action: Support House Bill 1036

Read More: Legislature needs to strengthen day care standards, published Oct. 20, 2013

Learn More: United Way Programs: Quality Child Care

United Way of Central Indiana is encouraged that so many policymakers are coming together on this issue. Under the leadership of Al Hubbard and Indianapolis City-County Council President Maggie Lewis, I’ve been pleased to take part in a broad-based group of community leaders who are conducting significant fact-finding on early childhood education. Mayor Greg Ballard and Deputy Mayor for Education Jason Kloth are exploring innovative options for funding. Gov. Mike Pence continues to show bold leadership by including the creation of pre-K vouchers for low-income children as part of his 2014 legislative agenda, and we commend Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz for her diligent work.

With strong leadership by House Speaker Brian Bosma, Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, and others, we remain hopeful that House Bill 1004, which creates the framework for a solid voucher system for both public and private providers of high-quality early childhood education, will continue through the legislative process. We urge the state Senate to act now on HB 1004 to allow planning and organization of the program to begin.

The state Senate is expected to hold a hearing on both bills on Wednesday, so there is still time to contact your state Senator to express support.

You can also learn more about this important issue by joining United Way for The Economics of Early Education Summit on Wednesday, February 19. You can register for this free event where a leading national economist will show that we can’t afford NOT to invest in early childhood education because for every dollar invested in early childhood, $7-$14 is returned.

What happens to children today has a direct bearing on their future as adults and our future as a community. Early education is the foundation of all learning. A structure built on a strong foundation can last centuries. On a weak foundation, much less should be expected.

Ann Murtlow
President and CEO
United Way of Central Indiana

Photo credit: Kelly Wilkinson / The Indianapolis Star