Indiana’s publicly funded preschool pilot program may shut out undocumented toddlers from enrollment, the nonprofit news website Chalkbeat Indiana first reported.
The publication reported that only legal U.S. residents can enroll in the state preschool pilot program as well as an Indianapolis preschool program sponsored by Mayor Greg Ballard (R).
“I don’t think that anybody was consciously saying, ‘We want to exclude or not be welcoming,’ but there were some boundaries that we had to identify in terms of who could we serve with public dollars and federal dollars,” Beth Stroh, the United Way of Central Indiana Director of Education, told Chalkbeat Indiana.
The United Way of Central Indiana serves as the preschool program’s administrator. ThinkProgress reached out to the organization for comment and a media spokesperson declined to speak on the record.
Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed the preschool pilot program into law last year. The program uses about $10 million from the Child Care and Development grant funds and money from other Family and Social Services Administration to pay for preschool for poor and indigent children in five counties. Another $5 million in private funds was solicited to expand the program.
Priority for the Indy Preschool Scholarship Program (Indy PSP), which provides free scholarships for children from low-income families, is given to 3- and 4-year-olds whose families live at or below 127 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. Once families receive a grant, they can choose from various preschool providers.
Federal law requires schools to grant children access to primary and secondary schools beginning in kindergarten, regardless of immigration status, but no such law exists for children who want to enroll in the preschool pilot program.
Jim Gavin, a spokesman for the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, told Chalkbeat that the policy “maintains consistency in policy for other early childhood education programs.” Other programs that require children to have legal status include the Child Care and Development Fund and Early Education Matching Grant programs.
Chalkbeat reported that there are some Indiana districts with preschool programs that are covered by a federal poverty program that accept students regardless of legal status.
The policy in place for the preschool pilot program affects few of the estimated 93,000 undocumented immigrants who live in Indiana. About 6,000 undocumented immigrants are between the ages of 3 and 12, the age range provided by the Migration Policy Institute.
Still, granting children early childhood education could mobilize future success. A Center for American Progress (CAP) study found that children, especially children of color, make greater academic gains compared to their white classmates when they attend preschool. Surveying 4-year-old children of color with access to preschool in four states — George, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Boston — the researchers found that children made large gains in problem-solving skills, literacy skills, and vocabulary. And while students of color are narrowing in on the achievement gap that exists between them and their white peers, the gulf remains in college readiness.
Another CAP study found that Chicago’s preschool program generates “$11 of economic benefits over a child’s lifetime for every dollar spent initially on the program,” while a 2009 study found that universal preschool programs found that every dollar spent on early childhood education generates about $7 in savings.
What’s more, early childhood interventions could have positive impacts on at-risk youth who are more likely to go to college, less likely to drop out of school, less likely to become teen parents, and more likely to commit fewer crimes.