Early Education

Senate panel drops Pence-backed preschool program

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
A preschooler in the Reggio program at IPS School 60.

One of Gov. Mike Pence’s top legislative priorities, a preschool pilot program, appears to have been stymied for 2014.

The program that would have been created by House Bill 1004 was set aside today by the Senate Education Committee, which preferred to hand the idea off to a legislative summer committee for more study.

The rewritten bill, with the pilot program removed and language creating the study committee inserted, passed the committee 9-0.

“This is an effort to put this suggested program into a form where it can actually be successful and do what it needs to do,” said Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, who proposed the amendment to move the issue to a study committee. “I think this is a logical step to take.”

Kara Brooks, a spokesman for Pence, suggested in a statement he was not giving up on the idea of establishing state support for preschool.

“Gov. Pence believes every child deserves to start school ready to learn, and he believes now is the time for a voluntary pre-K program to help Indiana’s low-income kids,” she said. “The governor looks forward to continuing to work with members of the General Assembly to advance this important initiative.”

House Bill 1004 has enjoyed wide support in the House, which last month passed it 87-9. It’s possible the pilot program could resurface as an amendment when the bill is considered on the Senate floor or in conference committee to resolve differences with the version passed by the House. It could also be added to another education bill.

Senators on the education committee have long been hesitant about launching any state-funded preschool program. Last year, the same committee scuttled a similar proposal for a pilot program, reworking that bill into a small grant program. Indiana is one of nine states that spends no state money for direct aid to children to attend preschool.

But this year state aid for preschool got a strong push from Pence. The governor made his first appearance of his 13-month tenure to testify for a bill to try to persuade the committee to allow the full Senate to vote on the bill.

With high quality preschool, children living in poverty have a better chance to succeed in school and life, Pence said in his testimony. Without preschool, they can fall behind in school, putting them at risk for dropping out or worse.

“It’s not that they are not willing and bright,” he told the committee in his testimony. “As a parent and as your governor, I find that not only unacceptable, but heartbreaking.”

Pence made concessions to try to assuage concerns from Kenley and others about the potential costs of the program. The bill was a scaled down version of his original proposal. It would have provided tuition support to about 1,000 low income children in five counties. The program also was constructed so it would cost no money until after the next biennial budget was created in 2015, a key concern of Senate Republicans.

Pence’s Center for Education and Career Innovation estimates the program would cost about $10.6 million when fully implemented. Start up costs in 2015 would be about $650,000 with the first children enrolling in 2016.

Kenley listed 10 questions he hoped the study committee would answer. Key among them was whether Indiana could get flexibility from the federal government to use federal money to fund the program without tapping state money. Federal funds currently support Head Start and other preschool programs for low income families in Indiana.

“Federal law allows for waivers to be secured by states,” Kenley said. “President Obama says he’s in favor of preschool education. We are hoping Indiana can go to the White House and Washington. If they would let us use the money that is already there we can have a pretty significant program developed here without using those dollars.”

The proposed summer study committee’s to do list

An amendment to House bill 1004 offered by Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, and supported by the Senate Education Committee, removed the preschool pilot program backed by Gov. Mike Pence and inserted language to create a summer study committee. The amendment detailed 10 areas Kenley asked for the committee to study:

-The feasibility of Indiana obtaining a block grant and waiver under the federal Head Start program, possibly to redirect money from Head Start for preschool vouchers such as was proposed in House Bill 1004 or an alternative program.

-The feasibility of obtaining a Child Care Development Block Grant or other federal funds to pay for Indiana preschool programs.

-The options for funding preschool or early learning programs through partnerships with business, philanthropic or communities.

-Whether other states have developed rigorous accountability standards for preschool programs.

-Parental involvement opportunities to prepare children for school outside of a formal preschool program, such as promoting the benefits of reading to children.

-Opportunities to equip parents with skills needed to improve their ability to contribute to the education of their children prior to kindergarten.

-The economic benefits of preschool.

-The appropriate state agency or entity to develop and oversee preschool accountability standards.

-The appropriate income standard to use to determine eligibility for tuition assistance from the state for preschool.

-Opportunities to partner with an investment group or entity to establish an investment fund or vehicle to finance preschool in Indiana.

School Choice

One of the top ranked high schools in the state just joined Indianapolis Public Schools

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Herron High School is the latest addition to the IPS innovation network.

One of Indianapolis’ most sought after charter high schools just joined Indianapolis Public Schools — an unusual shift in a relationship that has long been competitive.

The IPS board voted to add Herron High School, a charter school on the northside, to the district portfolio of innovation schools at a meeting Thursday. Board member Elizabeth Gore was the only one to oppose the measure.

The move is the latest example of district collaboration with charter schools, which were seen in the past as rivals for students.

“Way back at the beginning, there was this huge animosity between IPS and charter schools,” said Herron board chair Joanna Taft, who has been involved with the school since it opened in 2006. “It’s really exciting to be able to see the charter schools and public schools start coming together.”

Herron and a second campus expected to open this fall, Riverside High School, are now under the IPS umbrella, but the schools still retain virtually all of their independence. The teachers are employed directly by the charter network and are not part of the IPS union. And unlike most innovation schools, neither campus is in an IPS building.

The deal offers the charter schools an influx of cash and extra control over which neighborhoods they serve. IPS will add well-regarded schools to the list of high schools on its books, and it will get credit for Herron’s test scores and other academic outcomes when the district is assessed by the state.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said the district wanted to add Herron to the innovation network so the classical liberal arts curriculum is available to more IPS students.

“The access to the classical model, which currently doesn’t exist in our district and … has a strong track record of success is obviously appealing to us,” Ferebee said. “We want to ensure that we give our students access to this option.”

Both Herron and Riverside are located within the boundaries of IPS, but the schools also draw students from nearby township and suburban communities. About half the students who attend Herron live in IPS boundaries, said Taft.

The school, which regularly ranks among the top Indiana high school, has historically drawn high-achieving students from IPS. But it has faced criticism for having student demographics that don’t mirror the community. Herron enrolls about 35 percent students of color, compared to about 80 percent of IPS students. Additionally, about 32 percent of Herron students are poor enough to get subsidized meals, less than half the rate in IPS.

Because IPS educates so many poor students, it gets more money from the state. Next year, the district is expected to receive a base rate of nearly $7,000 per student from the state, while Herron will receive about $5,500. Under the agreement approved tonight, IPS will give Herron and Riverside $6,000 per student next year.

If the school’s demographics fit the projections from the state, the district would be giving the charter schools more than $475,000 on top of what they would normally get from the state.

Herron leaders are taking steps to increase the number of low-income students they serve, said Taft. In addition to joining the innovation network, Herron will participate in EnrollIndy, a planned unified enrollment system that will allow students to apply to Herron and other charter schools through the same website as IPS schools.

Ferebee also said joining the new enrollment system should help increase the number of low-income students at the schools.

“We have been very intentional with this agreement around ensuring that the student population with these schools mirror as much as possible our IPS population,” said Ferebee.

As innovation network schools, Herron and Riverside will also be able to give students from the surrounding neighborhoods first dibs on seats at the schools, which could increase the number of students who live within IPS boundaries. (With a few exceptions, charter schools are required to admit students by lottery.)

That was one of the most important reasons Herron wanted to join the innovation network, said Taft. Riverside staff have been working closely with neighborhood leaders around the new campus, and they wanted to be able to give local students priority in admission.

That’s an attractive prospect for board member Kelly Bentley, because the nearby students who will get an edge come from within the IPS boundaries.

“I think that Herron is an excellent academic program,” she said. “I’m really excited that our students will have a better chance of getting into that program.”

early intervention

Meet Colorado’s resident expert on early childhood mental health

Jordana Ash, Colorado's director of early childhood mental health

Jordana Ash holds a job that doesn’t exist in most states.

She’s Colorado’s director of early childhood mental health — a position created three years ago within the state’s Office of Early Childhood. A local foundation paid Ash’s salary for 18 months and then the state took over.

The addition of a high-level state job dedicated to the mental health of young children was a win for advocates, coming at a time of growing awareness about the long-term impact of childhood trauma. Ash said her role helps infuse both the Office of Early Childhood, where her unit is housed, and other state agencies with programs and policies focusing on child mental health.

Before coming to the Office of Early Childhood, which is part of the Department of Human Services, Ash ran a mental health consultation program in Boulder for 13 years.

We sat down with Ash this week to discuss her background, the state’s work on early childhood mental health and her thoughts on the recent defeat of state legislation that would have limited early childhood suspensions and expulsions.

The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What sparked your interest in early childhood mental health?
My first job out of graduate school was in Alameda County, California and I was a child welfare worker. I didn’t have a lot of life experience at that time. I didn’t have children of my own. I didn’t know a lot about child development. But what I could really do is listen to families. We met families at the hardest times.These were families whose children were removed for suspicion of abuse or neglect.

Everybody has a story and if you spend time listening, you will hear about their hopes for their child, things that bring them joy in parenting. To me, it’s about the stories and what parents do every day to try to do better for their kids.

Can you put into context Colorado’s work on early childhood mental health compared to work in other states?
Colorado is really in a unique position compared to other states. My position was created three years ago with philanthropic dollars (from the Denver-based Rose Community Foundation, which is also is a financial supporter of Chalkbeat) looking to get a position in state government completely focused on early childhood mental health.

There are very few states that have a position of leadership in state government with (early childhood mental health) being their primary focus. Minnesota has a similar position, Connecticut has a coordinator position. A couple of states are coming along. Other states have recognized that it’s a wise investment to have a position where you can really institutionalize some of those important changes and policies for statewide reach.

Can you talk about the major efforts your unit is working on now?
Our two main initiatives are the mental health (consultant) program and Colorado Project LAUNCH. (See this story for more about Project LAUNCH.)

We are (also) studying the effects of parent adversity on child well-being. We were (also) selected to receive three years of technical assistance on infant and early childhood mental health consultation. We’re hoping that helps us finalize our system of consultation in Colorado so we are a premier program that other states look to.

Last year, the state doubled the number of early childhood mental health consultants available to help child care providers and preschool teachers manage challenging behavior. How is it going?
Our state-funded program of 34 full-time positions is one of the largest (in the nation). We’re working really hard on developing Colorado’s system of mental health consultation so it’s consistent — for state-funded positions, for positions funded by philanthropy for programs that have their own hired consultants — so everyone is working toward the same standard of practice.

Can you share an anecdote about how mental health consultation works?

I can think of a situation where a consultant provided support for a cook at a child care center. Her child was enrolled in the program. This was a 3-year-old with a lot of challenging behaviors. At first, (the mother) was really nervous to talk to the consultant. She confused the role of the mental health consultant with something like social services and wondered if she was going to be judged or somehow scrutinized about her parenting. She had never had contact with any kind of mental health service before.

In getting to know the consultant not only did she find some new ways to interact with her child so that he could be more successful in the classroom and at home, but she also had her first experience with a mental health professional. It reduced the sense of stigma (around) getting mental health help.

She found that she could get a better position at the child care center because her child was successful in his classroom. She wasn’t having to take him home because of his problems.

What advice do you have for child care providers or early childhood teachers who are at their wits’ end over a child’s challenging behavior and haven’t accessed a consultant? Take a deep breath. We want to understand that that child is telling us something. We might not understand what that behavior means but it’s our responsibility as adults to help figure that out.

We really encourage providers to access a mental health consultant or other support right away when they’re starting to be puzzled or concerned about a child’s behavior. It’s much easier to intervene if you have new ideas sooner in the process.

The role of child care providers and teachers is critically important. So we are not in a position to judge or to evaluate what you’ve done. We’re in a position to partner with you and help you provide the best care you can.

To locate an early childhood mental health consultant, providers can call 303-866-4393.

What advice do you have for parents who know their child is acting up at preschool or child care and worry they could get counseled out or kicked out?
Reach out and connect directly with your child care program about the problem before you start feeling like your child may be at risk of being suspended or expelled. That partnership between parents and providers is the most powerful part of a solution.

I would also say you can talk to your child’s primary care physician as a start. Maybe there’s a developmental concern your physician can help figure out and that’s gonna be a really important piece of the puzzle.

Connecting with a mental health consultant in your area is a really good solution to start looking at the causes of those challenging behaviors and to start putting in place some interventions while other tests or other assessments are being done.

For help locating a mental health consultant, parents can visit: http://www.coloradoofficeofearlychildhood.com/ecmentalhealth

What are your thoughts on the bill killed during Colorado’s 2017 legislative session that would have limited suspensions and expulsions in preschool and kindergarten through second grade?

The fact that the bill made it as far as it did meant lots of people were invested, were having great conversations about this problem in a way we never (had) before. Stakeholders were for the first time …. considering issues of disproportionality and implicit bias in a way that was a first. We had never had that kind of visibility to the early childhood time period and this very complex issue that affects children’s trajectories way into their school years.

Would you like to see a similar bill pass next year?
As an office, we’d be super interested in whatever’s put forward.