Business leaders push to expand state pre-k program

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Thousands more Hoosier children may gain access to pre-k. In its current form, it’s relatively limited across the state, excluding families who can afford to pay for it. Its availability in less affluent communities is restricted.

A group of business leaders made the pitch Wednesday for expanded, state-wide pre-k to the state’s Interim Study Committee on Fiscal Policy.

“This is an investment. This is an investment that has long term, longitudinal studies show a return on that investment,” said Mike O’Connor, Director of State Government Affairs at Eli Lilly and Company.

Major corporate players like PNC Bank and Eli Lilly have funded Indiana pre-k programs, but now they’re asking the state to do its part.

“What we’re asking of the state is to look at this as an investment, look at the data. Sometimes there are conflicting data over the certain programs, but the long-term studies show real return on that investment,” said O’Connor.

In 2017, state lawmakers will consider a major expansion of pre-k. The price tag is not yet known, but what is, is the hope that pre-k will be offered to every Hoosier who wants it.

Parents who’ve experienced the benefit of the state’s existing pre-k pilot program made the pitch as well Wednesday.

“It’s meant the world to me and my family and how important this is for other families to get it. I always tell people about it,” said Shauna Wagner, whose 4-year-old is enrolled in the state’s pre-k program.

Pre-k and child care has become an important topic in this year’s election. The candidates for president have raised the topic on the campaign trail and the candidates for Governor addressed it in their first debate this week.

“It’s pre-kindergarten, optional for the parents, for the students, but universal so all students can take advantage of it. It’s what our business leaders and our teachers tell us we need,” said Democratic candidate for Governor, John Gregg.

The concern though is having taxpayers foot the bill, when it’s not even clear, how successful the state’s pilot pre-k program has really been.

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