All IN 4 Pre-K

Indy business leaders promise to fight for preschool for more kids

PHOTO: Meghan Mangrum
A teacher sits with preschoolers as they play in a preschool classroom at the Day Early Learning Lilly Center.

Just two years ago, Indiana finally became the 42nd state to offer direct state aid for preschool tuition to poor children, and business leaders said today they are lining up behind a big push to enroll even more children.

A group of companies and community organizations announced a campaign, “All IN 4 Pre-K” aimed at raising awareness of the need for quality preschool and urging lawmakers to back their plan for a bigger state program.

“The reality remains too few students have access to high quality pre-K in our state,” said United Way CEO Ann Murtlow. “Thousands of children remain unserved because their parents can’t afford the cost of quality programs and they were unsuccessful in the limited lottery.”

In 2014, Gov. Mike Pence helped push through a small pilot program in five counties. Preschool advocates celebrated, and have pushed ever since for the state to spend more money on preschool. But expansion efforts have so far fallen flat.

The group gathered today at a Early Learning Indiana-run preschool just north of downtown promised a big push to make it happen this time when the Indiana General Assembly returns for the 2017 session in January.

Partners will “encourage the General Assembly to take bold action to expand preschool in a targeted way that focuses on low-income kids and high quality programs,” Murtlow said.

Local business and civic leaders join forces to push for an expansion of preschool options for Hoosier families through lobbying efforts and the launch of the "All IN 4 Pre-K" awareness campaign.
PHOTO: Meghan Mangrum
Local business and civic leaders join forces to push for an expansion of preschool options for Hoosier families through lobbying efforts and the launch of the “All IN 4 Pre-K” awareness campaign.

Mutlow and others stopped short of calling for universal preschool that would enroll any Hoosier child for free. Democratic candidate for governor John Gregg and Glenda Ritz, the state superintendent, have called for universal preschool and argued the state can afford it, even at a cost of as much as $150 million.

The Republican candidate for governor, Eric Holcomb, also voiced support for expanded preschool when he was nominated by the Indiana GOP last month.

But concerns from Republican legislators, who dominate both houses of the Indiana legislature, that the program could prove even more costly in the long run, and some skepticism about the long-term value of state-funded preschool, have lowered expectations that such a program could win enough support to pass.

There are is space for as many as 3,000 more children in highly-rated preschools, Murtlow said, that have been gone unfilled because families cannot afford the cost.

During today’s announcement, retiring Eli Lilly and Company CEO John Lechleiter and his wife Sarah pledged a $5 million gift to be matched with another $5 million from the company to support preschool for poor children. Some of the money will be used for direct scholarships to students to help fill empty spaces in highly rated preschools. The money will also fund efforts to help those preschools expand to serve even more students.

After the state’s pilot program, On My Way Pre-K, was launched, the city of Indianapolis launched it’s own program the following year. Both of those programs have attracted far more applicants than scholarships available.

Decision makers

5 things to know about Austan Goolsbee, the high-powered new addition to Chicago’s school board

PHOTO: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
In 2013, Austan Goolsbee testified before the Congressional Joint Economic Committee on Capitol Hill about the nation's economic recovery

Chicago’s school board is once again complete after outgoing mayor Rahm Emanuel chose a University of Chicago economist to fill a long-vacant seat.

Austan Goolsbee, an economics professor at University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, will round out the seven-member, mayor-appointed board that sets education policy in the city.

Here are five things to know about Goolsbee:

  1. Like Emanuel, he served in the Obama White House. Goolsbee was as a close adviser to President Barack Obama, eventually becoming chair of his Council of Economic Advisors. The Chicago Teachers Union see this tie as a liability. “Mr. Goolsbee comes into a board responsible for students and their schools being starved of resources for the last eight years by the man who appointed him,” the union said in a statement. “Those same neighborhoods continue to struggle from the consequences of a foreclosure crisis that the administration he served in Washington failed to address.”
  2. He has weighed in on education before. A prolific opinion writer, he has written favorably about the economic arguments for universal prekindergarten, a priority for the outgoing mayor, saying that expanding early childhood education is a bargain over the long term. In a 2015 survey of economists’ positions on public issues, Goolsbee expressed optimism about “value-added” measures that try to isolate the impact of individual teachers on student test scores — though he qualified the approach as having “lots of noise and unobservables.” Expressing uncertainty about vouchers, Goolsbee said he fears that letting parents use public funds to pay for private school tuition could harm public schools, which have fixed costs cannot easily be reduced when students leave them. (A tax-credit version of vouchers launched in Illinois last year but now faces an uncertain future under a new Democratic governor.)
  3. He’ll bring a focus on fiscal policy to a board that oversees a big and uncertain budget. A close economic adviser to President Obama and prolific commenter on matters of economic policy in the national media, he’s joining a board that oversees $8 billion in outstanding debt. Chicago has credited the passage of an equitable funding bill, in 2017, for helping stabilize its finances. But the district’s economic future is uncertain, especially as families continue to leave the city.
  4. His personal public school experience is limited. He attended an elite private high school in the suburbs of Boston where he grew up, and his children attended the University of Chicago’s Lab School both before and after the family’s time in Washington, D.C., he has said in interviews.
  5. He’s got a following, and a sense of humor. For proof, check out his Twitter feed, which has 80,000 followers, and his October appearance on the popular NPR quiz show “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” Plus, his official University of Chicago profile lists a special interest in improv comedy. That sets him apart from the rest of the school board members, who tend to keep a low public profile.  

How long Goolsbee serves could depend on what happens after Emanuel leaves office in early 2019. Chicago’s mayor has controlled the city school board since 1995, but Emanuel’s decision not to seek a third term has heightened debate about whether the city’s schools have benefitted.

In 2011 and 2015, voters backed non-binding resolutions that would make the board democratically elected. Now, two of the leading candidates in the mayor’s race, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and state comptroller Susana Mendoza, have said they’d support an elected school board — reducing their own power over education if they become mayor.

How soon a change could happen is unclear, but state lawmakers who would have to sign off on such a change have an ally in Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker, who has said he supports the call for an elected school board.

The issue was a point of debate at a Chalkbeat Chicago event this week at Malcolm X College. At the event, titled “Education for All? Chicago’s Next Mayor and the Future of Public Schools,” some panelists voiced concern that elections would be dominated by well-organized factions, such as the teachers union, that would have the ability to outspend other candidates.

Super Search

The pressing question at Denver’s final forum: How will Susana Cordova tackle inequity?

PHOTO: AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post
Susana Cordova poses for a portrait in December 2018.

The challenges that Susana Cordova will face if she’s hired next week as superintendent of the Denver school district were laid bare at a public forum Tuesday night.

Standing in a high school cafeteria with a microphone in her hand, the deputy superintendent and sole finalist for the top job faced tough questions about why struggling schools have high numbers of inexperienced teachers, whether she would commit to removing all police officers from schools, and what she would do about what one student called the “charter-ization” of Denver Public Schools — that is, the district’s practice of replacing low-performing district-run schools, sometimes with charter schools.

The most heated and emotional exchanges, however, were about inequities: Why is the district not serving black, Latino, and Native American students as well as white students? Why do test score gaps exist between students from poor families and those from wealthier ones?

Onecia Garcia, a senior at East High School, the city’s largest school and one of its most diverse, told Cordova there is a noticeable gap at East between the kids whose parents have money to pay for tutors and SAT prep courses, and the kids whose parents don’t.

“I want to know what your plan is to get that gap in order,” Garcia said.

In response to Garcia’s question and others like it, Cordova acknowledged that institutional racism exists in Denver Public Schools and has contributed to those gaps. She said the district needs to do a better job informing families about opportunities such as free SAT help and concurrent enrollment classes that allow students to earn college credit while in high school.

Cordova, who grew up in Denver and climbed the district ranks from teacher to her current position of deputy superintendent, talked about making it mandatory for all teachers to undergo training on bias and being culturally responsive, instead of allowing some to opt out.

Cordova said one of her top priorities would be to take the myriad and disparate efforts the district has started over the years to address specific inequities and combine them into one comprehensive plan. She called it “an equity plan that is for all kids, but that also has the specifics for African-American kids, for Latino kids, for low-income kids.”

“It is important that we’re not introducing too many things that you can’t keep a focus,” she said. “I think that’s a valid criticism of the work that we’ve done: We’ve introduced too many things that have made it hard to understand what is the progress that we’re trying to get at.”

But after the forum, Garcia said she didn’t feel Cordova had fully answered the questions. Other students who attended said they felt the same way.

“She wasn’t willing to commit to anything,” said Jonathan Bateman, a freshman at George Washington High School, where the forum was held.

“She answered questions like a politician,” said Carlye Raabe, also a freshman at George Washington.

Cordova emphasized that if she’s hired as superintendent, she’ll approach the job differently than her predecessor, Tom Boasberg, who stepped down in October after nearly 10 years of leading Denver Public Schools. Boasberg was often criticized for not listening to the community.

“I believe deeply in the power of relationships,” Cordova said. “I think it’s really important that we’re not just listening to people who think like I think or who sound like I sound, but who have different experiences, because Denver is an incredibly diverse place.”

The school board is expected to vote Monday on whether to appoint Cordova to the top job.