Lawmakers debate cost, benefits of early education as they eye regulations for session
State lawmakers are debating the merits of early education before the start of the legislative session. Early education programs made small but significant gains last year and will likely be one of the education topics tackled by lawmakers again this year.
Senate Democratic Leader Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) wants to expand early education and move up the age at which children are required to go to school. He said when kids start school later, they’re missing out on crucial learning years.
“In the state of Indiana, you're not compelled to send your child to school until they're 7. Not five. Seven,” he said.
Taylor said he has proposed that change for the past six years, but the idea has not been passed into law. This year, he’s hoping pre-K and early learning expansions will receive bipartisan support.
Lawmakers expanded eligibility for the state pre-K program On My Way Pre-K last year. However, Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) said he’s not sure about the efficacy of pre-K programs.
He cited a 2022 study from Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College that shows ineffective pre-K programs could have negative effects on some students.
“There's some data out there, frankly, that seems counterintuitive to me that suggests it's not particularly helpful,” he said.
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Bray said he wants to make sure lawmakers are spending money responsibly. He said increasing spending on early education may not be the answer if the benefits don’t outweigh the costs.
“When you start adding, say, kids start at 5 years old, that is an immense amount of money that the state would be spending,” he said. “We want to make sure we're spending it thoughtfully.”
Some lawmakers have mentioned that pre-K programs are an option to help families with child care, another issue that will be addressed during this year’s legislative session. House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) said over-regulation plays a part in the lack of child care options.
“Frankly, we've regulated ourselves into this problem,” he said.
Huston said some child care and early education regulations should be loosened to create more availability in the programs.