In a recent conversation with a local state legislator about the need for high-quality early childhood education, I was asked, “What do you want me to do about it?”
But I would like to answer the question publicly because I believe most La Porte County residents are concerned about the lack of quality and accessibility of infant, toddler and preschool programs. As a legislator, who has been entrusted by constituents with the power to create policies that support the freedoms, growth, safety and quality of life, I would like you to do something about the following issues:
n According to information from the Indiana Early Learning Advisory Committee (ELAC), there are over 5,000 children between birth and age 5 that are in need of early childhood education in La Porte County
n Childcare costs Hoosier families an average of $8,818 per child annually
n Only 24 percent of children in La Porte County are enrolled in programs considered high-quality
n The Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at Berkley found that in 2017, the median hourly wage for a childcare worker in Indiana was $9.62, while a preschool teacher made $11.65
The State of Indiana invests millions of dollars into workforce development, but we need to also invest in brain development. Research tells us that 90 percent of a child’s brain is formed before age 6.
If the plethora of developmental studies does not convince you (see The Abecedarian Project, Perry Preschool Project, Chicago Longitudinal Study) of the importance of early childhood education, then consider the economic advantages.
Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman studied the longitudinal effects of high-quality preschool education and concluded that for every one dollar spent, there was a 7 percent to 13 percent per annum rate of return on investment. A study conducted by Indiana University’s Public Policy Institute and Early Learning Indiana on the lack of universal early childhood education found that the state was losing $1.8 billion in direct cost to businesses.
Yes, Indiana has rolled out On My Way Pre-K in incremental stages with limited funding. We need more. The labor talent that Indiana continues to publicly prioritize retaining and recruiting will not sacrifice their young children’s early education for the sake of their careers. Nor will low-income families be able to achieve their desire for fair wages and upward mobility. Education, whether for our youngest learners or in K-12 settings, is the only way our state and county succeeds.
There is no tax abatement, TIF district, or train that will bring the kind of economic prosperity that early childhood education can. We could start with the $2 billion in reserves that the state is keeping for a “rainy day.” It is raining in La Porte County on children and families. Let’s make those dollars rain on universal early childhood education and K-12 public education for all our futures’ sake.
Nasser Nabhan is an early childhood education assessor, training specialist, and current doctoral candidate. He lives in La Porte County, is a former instructor at Ivy Tech Community College in Michigan City, and works at National Louis University in Chicago. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.