Early Childhood

Indiana moving to offer direct aid for preschools for the first time

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
A preschool class at Shepherd Community Center on Indianapolis' East side.

A last minute compromise today revived a preschool pilot, which then passed the legislature, giving Gov. Mike Pence a chance to sign into law a program that would put Indiana among 41 states that offer direct aid for preschool tuition for the first time.

Pence, who made preschool one of his top legislative priorities, is expected to sign House Bill 1004. The revised version of the bill passed the House 92-8 and the Senate passed it 40-8. For supporters of preschool, it was the foot in in the door for greater support of preschool that they’ve sought for several years.

“This is the best thing we’ve done for children, education and the impoverished in Indiana,” said Rep. Shelli Vanderburgh, D-Crown Point.

But skeptics warned that the program, while small, would likely grow and could prove costly.

Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, opposed the bill, saying it would clear the way to a wide expansion of preschool funding even before any study of its effectiveness is complete.

“This could have a catastrophic impact on the state of Indiana,” he said. “It could be a budget buster.”

The last day of the legislative session began this morning with a conference committee meeting of Democrats and Republicans from the Senate and House to sort out differences that had stalled the bill for more than a week. The key question was whether the state should start paying for poor children to attend preschool or wait until a study was undertaken.

The House version bill, with a pilot program for about 1,000 children, overwhelmingly passed but hit a road block in the Senate. Worried about costs, Republican Senators removed the pilot and replaced it with a summer study committee to examine the issue. Democrats objected to a provision in the bill that made participants automatically eligible to receive private school tuition aid under the K-12 voucher program when they completed preschool.

The compromise removed the connection to K-12 vouchers, winning Democratic support. Lawmakers also found a new funding source.

The bill would fund the preschool program from the budget of the Family and Social Services Administration by allowing the agency to keep up to $10 million Pence had ordered it to cut due to poor revenue projections so it could use that money to fund the program.

In addition, the bill now allows preschool providers or FSSA to match another $5 million in grants or private contributions. The entire program, therefore, could spend $15 million in public and private money on tuition support for children to attend preschools.

The revised bill focusing the program on poorer children. It drops the income eligibility limit for a family four to $30,289 annually, down from the prior plan to allow those with income up to $44,122. For families, tuition aid would range between $2,500 and $6,800 a year depending on income House Speaker Brian Bosma said the pilot could serve as many as 4,000. It is only limited by budget. There is no cap on the number of participants.

Other provisions in the bill:

  • It requires parental involvement.
  • It allows up to $1 million of the funding to support a study of the program’s effectiveness.
  • The pilot would operate in five counties selected by FSSA.
  • It can start as early as next fall, if FSSA can design and implement the pilot that quickly.


Making the grade

New York City gets a gold medal for pre-K quality and access, new report finds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga/Chalkbeat
Pre-K students play during center time at The Renaissance Charter School in Jackson Heights, Queens. New York City earned high marks in a national review of pre-K programs.

New York City’s pre-K program earns high marks when it comes to quality and access, according to a new report that ranks early childhood education in major cities across the country.

That’s according to CityHealth, a policy advocacy group, and the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, an authority on pre-K research.

The city is one of only five that were awarded CityHealth’s highest ranking — a gold medal — for meeting at least eight of 10 benchmarks for effectiveness and having high student enrollment. The report evaluated pre-K programs in the country’s 40 largest cities.

“I think New York City should be very proud of their program, and it really is a model for other cities,” said Ellen Frede, senior co-director of the institute. She was not an author of the report.

New York fell short on two measures: teacher training and education requirements for classroom assistants.

The knock on teacher training is surprising, given that the city often touts its dedication to professional development as one of the major factors contributing to program quality

Also surprising: The report gives New York City credit for pay equity, which measures whether pre-K teachers are paid similarly to their K-12 colleagues. Only in city-run classrooms do early childhood educators earn the same as teachers who work with older students. But most pre-K students attend community-based programs, where teachers can earn as little as 60 percent of the salary paid to those who work for the city.

“It’s equity to some extent. There is work to be done there in New York City,” said Albert Wat, senior policy director for Alliance for Early Success, who peer-reviewed the report.

Still, New York City is far ahead of many other cities such as Indianapolis, where enrollment is low and programs show few of the marks of high quality. Education department spokeswoman Isabelle Boundy called the city’s early education efforts a “game-changer.” Since Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, the city has made free pre-K available to all 4-year-olds and has begun to expand the program to 3-year-olds.

“As New York City continues to increase access to free, full-day, high-quality early education, our programs are on par with gold-standard programs across the nation,” she wrote in an email.

The rankings are awarded by CityHealth, a non-profit funded by the de Beaumont Foundation and Kaiser Permanente, which notes the long-term health benefits afforded by pre-K. In New York City, a 2017 study showed improved health outcomes for low-income children after the launch of universal pre-K. Other studies, however, have shown mixed results.

You can read the full report here.


Early education

New pre-K report gives Memphis bronze medal, Nashville gold

PHOTO: Jacinthia Jones
Pre-K students at Lucie E. Campbell Elementary in Memphis.

A new report on quality and access to early education programs across the country gives Memphis a bronze medal, mainly for providing prekindergarten for at least 30 percent of the city’s 4-year-olds, and Nashville a gold medal for meeting both quality and accessibility standards.

The report said in addition to accessibility, Memphis met benchmarks related to classroom size, teacher-child ratio, and teacher education level, but missed the mark when it came to curriculum or learning goals, teacher professional development, and local funding commitment.

Nashville met criteria for accessibility, classroom size, teacher-child ratio, teacher education level, local funding, and professional development. Both Memphis and Nashville met standards for salary equity, meaning that prekindergarten teachers were paid similar to K-12 teachers.

The report  was produced by CityHealth, a policy advocacy group, and the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, an authority on pre-K research.

Memphis officials were quick to take issue with the report’s finding regarding local financial support. “Mayor (Jim) Strickland has been committed to pre-K funding since he’s been on the council,” said Doug McGowen, the city’s chief operating officer. He also noted that as a councilman, the mayor advanced two pre-K referendums, although both were defeated by voters.

Most of the 5,600 subsidized preschool seats in Shelby County Schools are funded through state and federal grants. Last year, the Memphis City Council allocated $8 million to replace an expiring federal grant and another $8 million to add 1,000 preschool slots, McGowen said.

After 2021, he said, the city will maintain $6 million in annual funding. Shelby County government is working on additional funding streams.

Read the full report below: