TERRE HAUTE —
Pretend that Charles Dickens is about to become Indiana’s next governor.
(Yes, the famed British author would be 200 years old. And, yes, he’s been dead since 1870. But suspend your disbelief momentarily, and work with me. Assume Dickens is in his prime, at age 31, just as he was when he wrote, “A Christmas Carol.”)
The top item on Gov. Dickens’ agenda would be to start funding preschool education in the Hoosier state. No doubt.
One of Dickens’ primary objectives in writing that Christmas classic often gets overshadowed by scenes of Ebenezer Scrooge confronting his selfishness, cold-hearted deeds and regrets. Instead, focus on the Ghost of Christmas Present and the two children he reveals — Ignorance and Want. Most kids in 1840s London lived in abject poverty, received little or no schooling, and died more frequently than adults. Dickens believed free public education was the ticket to breaking that cycle of poverty, and hoped his novel would illustrate its importance.
In “A Christmas Carol,” the Ghost of Christmas Present introduces Scrooge to twin children. “This boy is Ignorance. The girl is Want,” the ghost tells the infamous curmudgeon. “Beware of them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware of this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is ‘Doom,’ unless the writing be erased.” In a nutshell, a lack of education leads to poverty. Education is the remedy.
Twenty-first century Indiana is not 19th-century London, yet the poverty cycle exists here and now. Forty-eight percent of Hoosier public-school kids qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. In Vigo County, 54 percent of kids receive those lunches. The numbers have steadily risen for years.
Meanwhile, Indiana remains one of just 11 states with no public funding for preschool education, and is the most populous of those. All of our neighboring states publicly fund pre-kindergarten to some degree. The concept is not cheap, and its implementation would be complex, given the existing network of private and faith-based preschools, as well as the federally funded Head Start program. Still, the long-term benefits would offset the up-front costs and the logistical hurdles.
In the past four years, the state has committed resources to far less proven education “reforms.” By contrast, the merits of pre-K education are widely documented. At a summit in Georgia this year, the National Institute for Early Education Research offered statistics on the impact of public preschool availability there. Kids living in poverty, who don’t attend preschool, often begin kindergarten behind their peers academically and socially. With preschool, classroom performance and behavior improved throughout their school years, with less special-education demands. High school and college graduation rates improved. As adults, those students earned better paychecks, adopted healthier lifestyles, and were less likely to be incarcerated or receiving public assistance.
In the long-run, taxpayers received a $12.90 return for every $1 spent publicly to educate Georgia preschoolers, according to that study.
As with London, Indiana is not Georgia. But this isn’t an apples-to-oranges comparison. Kids are kids, and “Hoosier common sense” — the mantra politicians love to invoke — suggests that Indiana could use more high school and college graduates, who generally help make this a better place to live. Perhaps the best news in the wake of last month’s election is that state funding of preschool initiatives has reached some legislators’ radar screens.
The actual governor-elect, Mike Pence, has voiced support for broadening access to pre-kindergarten education for low-income kids. House Speaker Brian Bosma mentioned some structure of state-funded preschool (perhaps using vouchers for use at public or private facilities) as a priority, heading into the 2013 session of the General Assembly. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce recognizes those long-run economic rewards ($12.90 back for every $1 paid), and is urging the Legislature to fund public preschool, targeting the neediest families.
State-backed, full-day kindergarten — accessible to all families who want it — is still a new concept in Indiana. This week, Gov. Mitch Daniels announced that a state grant program will distribute $190 million to expand full-day kindergarten for the next two years. Kindergarten enrollment — still not mandatory in Indiana — jumped 19 percent in 2011-12.
Obviously, Hoosiers are just getting warmed up to the full-day K idea; paying to educate 4-year-old preschoolers (routine practice elsewhere) sounds even edgier here.
Nonetheless, it makes sense — economically, socially and academically — today, and 20 years from now.
Indiana is not an affluent state, and some well-intentioned proposals aren’t affordable. A universal, state-funded preschool program won’t likely happen soon, but a targeted system with well-screened, well-staffed facilities is doable.
Terry Spradlin, director of education policy at the Indiana University Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, crunched some numbers this week to help explain a feasible preschool program. Indiana is home to 88,691 4-year-olds, according to the 2010 Census. If the state focused on the 48.2 percent receiving free or reduced lunches, and subtracted those already enrolled in special education preschools and federally funded Head Start classes, approximately 30,000 at-risk children would remain. Based on the per-student preschool costs in surrounding states, Indiana would pay $122 million to $140 million, Spradlin estimated.
Then again, using that $12.90-to-$1 payback formula, Hoosier taxpayers would save more than $1 billion through those kids’ adulthood.
“We will reap those benefits for years to come once we implement those programs,” Spradlin said.
Charles Dickens would smile.
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or email@example.com.
TERRE HAUTE —
Pretend that Charles Dickens is about to become Indiana’s next governor.
- Local & Bistate
Vigo County Jail Log: May 23, 2013
The following individuals were booked into the Vigo County Jail by area law enforcement on Wednesday and Thursday, based on jail records.
Relic from another age: Massive find
A mastodon that lived in the Wabash Valley thousands of years ago is making big news today.
Game Over: Financial tightening causes VCSC to drop St. Patrick’s from athletic schedule
St. Patrick’s School athletic teams will not have an opportunity to compete against their Vigo County School Corp. middle school counterparts next year.
Katelyn Newell finally at home
After nearly five months, 8-year-old Katelyn Newell finally returned home Thursday evening — with a new heart.
Indiana State U. Police officer honored with Artz Award
Thursday was a special day for Indiana State University Police Officer Christopher Heleine in multiple ways.
City Council considering three for consultant
Three different tax professionals vied Thursday for a chance to become a “financial consultant” to the Terre Haute City Council.
Clay County sheriff warns of bank card scam
The Clay County Sheriff’s Department has received information regarding a scam targeting residents, according to a news release from the sheriff’s department.
State Police seek help with Sullivan County homicide
Indiana State Police detectives from the Putnamville Post are seeking help from the public with the nearly six-month investigation into the death of 85-year-old Lowell R. Badger, a rural Sullivan County farmer.
Man who attacked Vigo deputy arrested
A Terre Haute man accused of attacking a Vigo County sheriff’s deputy earlier this week is facing felony charges in the Vigo County jail.
INDOT to bid final 641 phase
The final construction phase of the 641 bypass is scheduled to let for bids on Dec. 11, according to the Indiana Department of Transportation.
District office moves north
The Southwest District office of the Purdue Extension service has been moved north from Vincennes to Terre Haute.
Day is done…
The sun sets Thursday evening as seen from south of Terre Haute.
Morning update: I-5 bridge collapse caused by truck hitting span
The Washington State Patrol chief says the Interstate 5 bridge collapse into the Skagit (SKA'-jiht) River at Mount Vernon was caused by an oversize truck.
UPDATE: I-70 lanes in Putnam County now open
The west-bound lanes of Interstate 70 re-opened Thursday evening after being temporarily closed due to a crash near the Greencastle/Cloverdale exit.
22-hospital St. Vincent Health cutting jobs
INDIANAPOLIS — One of Indiana’s largest health systems says it’s cutting an undisclosed number of jobs by June 30 because of increasing economic and competitive pressure on the health care industry.
Update: Cleanup from overturned truck in Greene County continues
Fuel spillage from the dump truck hauling gravel that overturned this morning in Greene County at Indiana 54 and County Road 725 East near Ridgeport continues to restrict traffic to one lane.
17-pound bone found during Vigo flood cleanup
TERRE HAUTE — Crews cleaning up from Wabash River flooding in Vigo County came across a 17-pound bone that they believe might have come from an ancient mastodon.
Duke Energy gives $10K to Wabash Valley Red Cross for Vigo flood relief
Duke Energy is giving $10,000 to the Wabash Valley Red Cross chapter for flood relief from this spring’s heavy rains.
I-70 Frye Road overpass contract awarded; construction to begin May 28
The Indiana Department of Transportation has announced the Interstate-70 Frye Road overpass contract was awarded to Halverson Construction Co. Inc. from Springfield, Ill., for $317,166.
Banks of the Wabash Festival is more than just yearly entertainment
Pioneers think counterintuitively. Where others see widespread apathy, they focus on the possibility for progress. In a way, the 2013 Year of the River celebration began in the 1970s.
Planning session aims to better Terre Haute
It’s not yet clear what will come of it, but dozens of community leaders spent the whole day Wednesday trying to develop a plan – or collection of plans – to make Terre Haute “a better community.”
Education funding boost won’t benefit all schools
In the budget bill passed by the General Assembly last month, there is more money allocated for K-12 education over the next two years, but that doesn’t mean every school will get more dollars.
- Day of Action job options open
Park Board renames land around Memorial Stadium
Land surrounding Indiana State University’s Memorial Stadium on Terre Haute’s east side has been designated as Veterans Memorial Park, following a unanimous vote Wednesday from the Terre Haute Park Board.
Deputy suffers minor injury during incident
A Vigo County Sheriff’s deputy received a minor injury to his hand Tuesday night while subduing a drunken driving suspect who fled behind a North Terre Haute business.
Man accused of child neglect gets new trial date
An Oct. 15 trial date has been set for a Terre Haute man arrested in November for child neglect after he and his wife allegedly tied up and confined their adopted children in the family home.
Police find meth labs, arrest Pierson Township man
Police uncovered two active methamphetamine labs in southeastern Vigo County on Monday, leading to the arrest of a Pierson Township man.
New date set for attempted murder trial
A new trial date has been set for a Terre Haute woman charged with attempted murder.
Illinois Senate approves sex education bill
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A proposal that revamps sex education in Illinois public schools to include information about contraception and sexually transmitted diseases has cleared the state Senate.
Gregg pondering 2nd run for Indiana governor
INDIANAPOLIS — Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg is pondering another run at the state's top job, but has yet to make a decision.
- More Local & Bistate Headlines
- Vigo County Jail Log: May 23, 2013