Early learning programs in Indiana are improving in quality, but according to an annual report nearly two-thirds of children who might need care aren’t enrolled in them, and the state lacks a unified data system to help reach the most vulnerable children.
This year’s Early Learning Advisory Committee – or ELAC – report says early learning enrollment has held steady for the past three years, and overall programs are improving their quality. It also estimates that about 60% of Hoosier children who might need care, aren’t enrolled in any formal program.
But the report also raises concerns that there’s not enough demographic data for kids who don’t use state or federal assistance. The report says without it, the committee can’t fully identify gaps in access for “vulnerable” groups, and make recommendations to fix gaps in access for those kids.
The report says the enrollment data is lacking for low-income, homeless, and foster care children, as well as children of color and those with disabilities.
Nicole Norvell, director of the state’s Office of Early Childhood and Out of School Learning, says the state collects that information for children using state or federal preschool and childcare grants. But says it could be tough for providers to even get that information from parents who privately pay for care and programming and share it with the state.
“There’s nothing regulatory that would force them to do that, and I think the other thing is they would have to get permission from parents in order to provide that information to us,” she says.
State officials are working on a strategic plan to improve information sharing between early learning service providers and streamline processes for families after receiving a preschool development grant earlier this year. They hope to submit the plan for federal approval this fall.