Business Coalition Doubles Down on Pre-K

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The state currently funds the pilot On My Way Pre-K program for low-income families in five counties. The state currently funds the pilot On My Way Pre-K program for low-income families in five counties.

A coalition of businesses is continuing its call for more early childhood education funding from the state. Representatives from All IN 4 Pre-K, which includes companies such as PNC Bank, Eli Lilly and Co. (NYSE: LLY) and Cummins (NYSE: CMI) joined hundreds of Hoosiers for a rally at the Statehouse Wednesday to push lawmakers to grow the state's existing pre-k program. PNC Regional President Connie Bond Stuart says the coalition would like to see state spending on the effort grow to at least $50 million.

The state currently funds the pilot On My Way Pre-K program for low-income families in Marion, Allen, Jackson, Lake and Vanderburgh counties. More than 2,400 children participated in the second full year of the program. Last year, United Way of Central Indiana Vice President of Public Policy Andrew Cullen told Inside INdiana Business Television demand for the program was so high in its first year, 3,500 applicants were turned away. 

State Representatives Holli Sullivan (R-78) and Bob Behning (R-91) HAVE co-authored House Bill 1004, which would expand the On My Way Pre-K program to five additional counties throughout the state. The proposal does not specify which counties would be added to the program.

The coalition calls expanding state-funded pre-k to more low-income children an "educational and economic imperative for the state." Stuart cites a study from Indiana University showing a $4 return for every $1 spent on pre-k. She says it's also a crucial first step to creating a stronger talent pipeline.

United Way of Central Indiana Chief Executive Officer Ann Murtlow agrees. "Overwhelming evidence shows that success in school and in life starts early," says Murtlow, "and the opportunity to grow Indiana's pre-k programs will reap academic and social benefits for kids and positive economic outcomes for our state."

Murtlow says, while the coalition understands serving all of the 27,000 low-income four-year-olds in Indiana who are not enrolled in high-quality pre-k isn't practical, an increase from $12 million to $50 million in funding would result in "meaningful, measurable progress." The group estimates serving all of the students would require more than $180 million.

The Indiana Office of Early Childhood and Out-of-School Learning is now accepting applications for the 2017-2018 academic year.

Stuart says she hopes the state will match the private sector's level of commitment.
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