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September 13, 2013

Senate Democrats: Time to fund pre-K

Dropping mandatory school age to 5 years old included in proposal.

INDIANAPOLIS — The head of the state Senate Democratic caucus is calling for a “positive discussion” on a proposal he backs to drop the mandatory school age in Indiana from age 7 to age 5 and to provide millions of dollars for pre-kindergarten education in every school district in the state.

Neither idea is new, but Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane of Anderson said it’s time to focus on moving the conversation about education reform forward and for that to include dramatically expanding early childhood education opportunities for all Hoosier children.

“The payoff is clear,” Lanane said. “High-quality pre-K programs produce students who are more likely to graduate from high school, earn a higher income, own a home, and less likely to require remediation or commit crimes.”

Lanane called a press conference to announce the initiative, saying it came after weeks of “controversial if not downright negative news about education.” Over the past few months, education news in Indiana has been focused on a series of failures and scandals, ranging from the long-delayed release of results of the ISTEP standardized test to allegations that the state’s former schools chief unfairly manipulated the A-F school rating system.

Lanane said it was time to have a “good, old-fashioned legislative debate” on the state’s role in educating some of its youngest citizens.

The cost of providing pre-kindergarten education to all 3- and 4-year-olds in the state could reach $200 million a year — about the same the state currently spends on kindergarten. The Indiana General Assembly has already passed a budget for the next two years, which means any additional funding requests likely wouldn’t be considered until the next budget session in 2015.

But Lanane said the Legislature could take up the debate in 2014, which is a short legislative session that must end by March 14.

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