Pharos-Tribune

Columns

March 5, 2014

KITCHELL: Indiana getting a late start on Head Start

First, we should applaud Indiana lawmakers and Gov. Mike Pence for at least broaching the issue of pre-school education and using state money to pay for it.

Generations of Indiana government officials from both parties have ignored this issue for too long, and at least they are willing to start the discussion over what we can do to help at-risk kids succeed in school.

The Indiana General Assembly however will not provide funding this year. Gov. Pence has indicated it should be time to at least provide “voucher scholarships” for children who really need pre-school education.

What’s sad about this story is that what Indiana is scratching the surface of doing is what the majority of other states hae done for many years. In fact, 40 states already provide some funding for pre-school education. This isn’t fundin for parents who need baby-sitters. It’s funding for at-risk children who will start school most likely behind their peers and struggle from the outset.

The federal government identified this problem in the 1960s. It produced a program known as Head Start which has been used in Cass, Pulaski, White and other Indiana counties to provide support for children.

So why is this so important? There are several reasons, but two that are critical are that pre-school years are when critical development occurs in a child’s brain — their behavior, their reasoning and their ability to learn are all related to what their pre-school world is like. Perhaps most importantly, research finds that children learn to read until the third grade, but after third grade, they read to learn. Unfortunately, children who don’t learn to read by the third grade don’t always get the help they need, and some never catch up. Is it their fault? Not really. But it’s their fate unless we do more to provide for this group of children.

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