INDIANAPOLIS — Early Education Works, formerly known as All IN 4 Pre-K, says it will continue to urge lawmakers to work towards sustaining funding and strengthening the state’s pre-kindergarten program in the 2021 legislative session.

The organization, comprised of Indiana business, civic and philanthropic leaders among others, says Early Education Works “will focus on high-quality early education as a critical factor for getting Hoosier parents and guardians back to work.”

Anne Valentine, vice president of government relations for United Way of Central Indiana, said the pandemic has shown the importance of early childhood education and child care.

“The COVID-19 crisis has proven that early childhood education is the backbone of Indiana’s workforce, and our economic recovery depends on the availability of safe, quality and affordable early care and education,” Valentine said in a news release. “Meeting this unprecedented need and getting our economy back on track requires continued investment in the state’s high-quality pre-K program.”

An April 2020 national survey completed by the Bipartisan Policy Center and Morning Consult found that nearly a quarter of parents and guardians working in-person reported reducing their hours to care for their children, while 19% of all parents and guardians reported taking paid and unpaid leave in the absence of a formal child care arrangement.

The organization’s main goal is expanding, increasing and investing in programs like the On My Way Pre-K grant program because they give lower-income families access to high-quality early education. Research shows investments in early childhood education lead to early school success, reduce grade retention and increase high school graduation rates.

The grant program was established by the Indiana General Assembly in 2014 as a pilot with five participating counties. In 2017, the pilot program was expanded to 20 counties to help more low-income families afford early childhood education.

On My Way Pre-K awards grants to 4-year-olds from low-income families so that they may have access to a high-quality pre-K program the year before they begin kindergarten, according to the state of Indiana’s official website.

A 2017 report from the state’s Family and Social Services Administration found that children participating in the On My Way Pre-K program gained skills at a higher rate than their peers who did not attend pre-K. Furthermore, the gains were maintained over the summer and into kindergarten.

“Through continued commitment and pragmatic policy, Indiana can create an early childhood education program that drives economic recovery and sets the next generation up for success in work and life,” Valentine said. “We’ve made laudable progress, but work remains to realize the full potential of early childhood education as a powerful, enduring investment in today’s and tomorrow’s workforce.”

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