Aug 16, 2023 - Education

Crouch calls for universal pre-K

Illustration of woman in a suit wearing a pin with an apple on it

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch is all in on universal pre-K.

Driving the news: Crouch told Axios on Tuesday that if she is elected governor next year she would push lawmakers to move Indiana's state-funded pre-K program, On My Way Pre-K, toward universal access more quickly.

  • "We can't get there overnight because, quite honestly, we don't have the infrastructure or the people to be able to do that," she said. "But I think, because of the importance of early childhood education to the workforce of today and tomorrow, it's important that we work towards that."

Why it matters: A high-quality pre-kindergarten experience leads to better academic outcomes as children move through school.

  • A study from Purdue University found children participating in Indiana's On My Way Pre-K program had stronger school readiness and language and literacy skills than their peers with similar family incomes who attended lower-quality child care or pre-kindergarten programs.

Catch up fast: Crouch is one of four Republicans seeking the GOP nomination in next year's gubernatorial primary.

  • She has long been invested in the state's early childhood education system, co-authoring legislation in 2013 to establish the pilot program that aimed to provide access to high-quality pre-kindergarten experiences for kids from low-income families.
  • She was serving as state auditor the following year when the Indiana General Assembly passed legislation to create the On My Way Pre-K program.

State of play: It's now available to qualified families in all 92 counties, but barriers to participation — work requirements, too few high-quality providers — have limited uptake.

Yes, but: Some counties had zero participants.

  • Approximately 80,000 children will enter kindergarten this school year.

Zoom out: More states are moving toward universal pre-K.

  • Ten states and Washington, D.C. have implemented universal preschool or at least have a universal preschool policy in place, if not yet fully implemented.
  • Four more states — California, Colorado, Hawaii and New Mexico — passed laws to provide universal preschool in the past year.

The other side: None of Crouch's GOP rivals — Sen. Mike Braun, Eric Doden and former attorney general Curtis Hill — has come out in support of universal pre-K.

  • Doden said: "Stay tuned! More from me on that soon."
  • Hill said he'd support early education programs "that focus on accountability with verifiable results, not blank checks."
  • Braun said the state needs "a solution to incorporate pre-K without making it mandatory or raising taxes on Hoosiers."
  • Of note: It's unlikely pre-K would become mandatory anytime soon, as the state still doesn't require kindergarten.

Meanwhile, Democratic candidate Jennifer McCormick, who is the former state superintendent of public instruction, is calling for universal pre-K.

  • Libertarian candidate Donald Rainwater told Axios he's "hesitant to support On My Way Pre-K due to the high level of state government control the program holds over parental choice" and called for the funding to be made available "with no strings attached."

Separately, while speaking on a panel about early childhood experiences at the National Conference of State Legislatures summit in Indianapolis this week, Crouch said she'd like Indiana to develop a "navigator" program to connect residents in need with government services beyond the limited insurance navigator program.


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