Last school year, only four percent of 85,000 Hoosier four-year olds were served by one of the state’s three signature pre-K programs – all through a five-county pilot program. This troubling fact was the impetus for last Friday morning’s launch of All IN 4 Pre-K – a campaign of Hoosier families, community advocates and business leaders calling for expansion of Indiana pre-K.
Four-year-old Bailie Harper; a student at the Day Early Learning and Lilly Family Center – the site of Friday’s event; is lucky. She won “the lottery.”
Because demand for quality pre-K far outpaced capacity; scholarship recipients for the five-county pilot were determined through a lottery. Nearly two-third of students whose parents entered their names had to be turned away.
“I know that it (pre-K) definitely made a difference for me,” said Bailie’s mom Kendra Harper – an attendee herself of a quality pre-K, “I felt academically ready and prepared and confident for Kindergarten. I was able to do well throughout elementary school, junior high and high school; and hopefully that’ll be ending soon as I enter my third year, my final year of law school this fall,” Harper said.
One of the community leaders joining Harper was John Leichleiter, chief executive officer of Eli Lilly. Leichleiter and his wife Sarah recently donated $5 million; with a matching donation of from the Lilly Foundation; to fund the United Way for Central Indiana (UWCI) pre-K expansion efforts. As leader of one of Indiana’s largest employers, Leichleiter cited statistics that show returns on investments in early childhood education of between four and twelve-to-one.
“As business leaders, we tend to want to invest in what works,” he commented.
While the Leichleiters’ generous gift is a tremendous boost to Indiana pre-K expansion efforts; depending upon the generosity of the philanthropic community to support pre-K in the long term isn’t sustainable. For all Hoosier children to have access to quality early childhood education; the State of Indiana must make a commitment.
Harper challenged legislators to “take a stand and do the right thing,” so that children’s futures aren’t determined by where they live. Choking back tears, she summed up her support for pre-K expansion.
“While I’m grateful that Bailie and her classmates get to experience this excellent pre-K program, it also deeply saddens me that other students are not able to do the same; and they miss out on this experience because I know how much its setting her up, and the foundation it will lay and how successful she’ll be because of it.”