Preschool parents eager for financial relief
President Barack Obama's proposal of affordable preschool is a huge relief to parents. If it happens, parents say it would be a huge help. Right now, they say long waiting lists and insurmountable costs are leaving children behind, even before they start kindergarten.
At the St. Mary's Child Care Center, near downtown Indianapolis, four-year olds are learning to read, scrawling their first words, and mastering simple math, while their parents are struggling to pay the bills.
Andy Howard has twin girls and a third child on the way.
"We have one car," he said. "(We) try to walk to work when we can. I bike the kids to school as often as I can."
Howard strapped the girls into a child carrier, then pedaled off toward home.
St. Mary's full-day pre school costs $700 a month. More than nine out of 10 families have modest incomes and receive generous discounts.
Without financial help, Angelia Brown fears her son will be among the kids falling behind in kindergarten.
"They won't be ready," Brown explained. "They won't be able to absorb and learn at the same rates as their peers."
No one is counting the number of Indiana children attending private and public preschools. The demand for affordable early education appears much greater than the available number of little desks and chairs.
St. Mary's has 235 children in classes and 100 more children on a waiting list.
Advocates insist children attending preschool, as older students, are less likely need special education, be held back or drop out of school.
Critics call it "glorified day care."
Mixed between lessons Thursday, we found children celebrating Valentine's Day playing, napping - or at least trying to - and teachers evaluating their math, science, social and other skills.
Preschool teacher Laura Leiter says it is as important as high school.
"Because you want your child to start out with a great foundation so they are ready for the rest of their life, this is where you are going to do it," she said.
In addition to the President, Indiana lawmakers and local schools are working on the preschool problem.
One House bill (HB1004) would create pre school scholarships for lower income families. A Senate bill (SB305) requires private preschools getting public funding to meet health, safety and educational standards. The Indianapolis Public School board intends to have its promised preschool plan ready by the end of the month.