Lawmakers aim to get preschool numbers up

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With full-day kindergarten in effect in Indiana, the state will focus on preschool education in 2013.

Right now, 53 percent of the children in the United States ages three and four are not enrolled in preschool. In Indiana, that number grows to 61 percent.

While the current class of preschoolers at Day Nursery in downtown Indianapolis may not realize it, they will be at the center of an interesting debate in the legislature in January. The problem is daunting. Only six states have a higher percentage of children not attending a preschool than Indiana.

"When 61 percent of our society who do not attend, then for some reason they can't get here and the barriers, usually, are cost and accessibility," said Marsh Hearn-Lindsey, Day Nursery Association CEO.

"It's time to take a look at the next step of early childhood development," said House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis).

That is a problem Bosma wants to address. In fact, it is one of the top priorities in the session to come for House Republicans, along with jobs.

"I think the statistic that leaps out at us is that there are only a few states that have a lower portion of their preschoolers attending a program of some type," Bosma said.

The question is, in a state where kindergarten is not mandatory, should that number surprise us and should that not be the logical next step for the state to take?

"Even though kindergarten is not mandatory, a majority of children still attend kindergarten, so it is important, but the earlier we start, the better," said Dr. Ted Maple with United Way.

Maple says that is why United Way has made early childhood education a top program and policy priority. The surprising thing is that all sides seem to be lining up.

"We are one of only 11 states that does not, in the U.S., have state-supported preschool," he said.

Lawmakers will begin touring some preschools next week.