- Associated Press - Friday, August 12, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Business, community and political leaders have formed a coalition that will lobby the General Assembly next year to expand pre-kindergarten education beyond the state’s five-county pilot program for low-income children.

The “All IN for Pre-K” campaign, announced Friday, wants lawmakers to make state-funded preschool available statewide.

Lawmakers writing a new state budget in 2017 should send money to help pre-K providers outside the pilot counties, including school districts and ministries, create more room for low-income children, said Ann Murtlow, president of United Way of Central Indiana. She was joined for the announcement by Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, Eli Lilly and Co. CEO John Lechleiter and Early Learning Indiana CEO Ted Maple.

“We need to ensure more Hoosier children - especially children from low-income families who stand to benefit most - can access high-quality pre-K so they start kindergarten ready to succeed,” Murtlow said.

Studies show children who participate in preschool education are less likely to require future remedial coursework or special education classes, are more likely to graduate high school and are better prepared when starting their careers, Murtlow said.

Lechleiter said Eli Lilly relies upon “a diverse, well-educated workforce to be successful.”

“We need a great education system in Indiana to help develop that workforce and high-quality early education is the foundation of such a system,” he said.

The state’s existing “On My Way Pre-K” program began last year and has since sent about 2,300 low income children to preschool at an annual cost of about $10 million. The pilot program is offered in Marion, Lake, Allen, Jackson and Vanderburgh counties.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg and state schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz have proposed a $150 million preschool program that would be available to all Indiana children regardless of family income. They have said funding for the program would come from reprioritizing some state spending and rededicating money budgeted for other programs that goes unspent.

His opponent, Republican Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb, says he supports “efforts to find affordable and responsible ways to bring early childhood education to the Hoosier families that need it most.”

Indiana is one of a handful of states that does not offer a significant pre-kindergarten program, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. Nonetheless, the adoption of a statewide program has proven politically difficult with tea party groups, some religious conservatives and a network of home schoolers opposed to the idea, as well as the acceptance of millions in federal money that could help pay for it.

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