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Editorial: Inclusive approach key for education

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AN early childhood development program that was launched within Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. in 2010 received a reprieve this month from a perceived death sentence imposed in November by local voters.

School officials have worked with the corporation’s community partners — the Community Education Coalition and the Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County — in extending the curriculum for the Busy Bees prekindergarten program through the next school year.

The action is a temporary measure hastily put together following the Nov. 6 negative answer on a referendum question asking voters to approve allocation of funds to expand the program throughout the corporation.

Since Indiana is one of 10 states that does not pay for prekindergarten programs, the future of the pilot program seemed in doubt. Certainly, any hopes of expanding it beyond current levels would be far-fetched in the wake of the negative reaction.

It is to the credit of school officials and their partners that this program will be continued on a limited basis. The school corporation should be able to continue early childhood development for about 400 4-year-olds, including 185 in Busy Bees and another 170 in Title I, which is for students with special academic needs.

In the meantime, local supporters are seeking new approaches in their efforts to maintain and even expand the successful initiative.

Going back to the voters with another referendum question is an approach not likely to be taken in the near future. It would be at least the 2015 election before the matter could be placed on another ballot.

The importance of early childhood development has been repeatedly demonstrated through a variety of assessment tools. For instance, 100 percent of the English-speaking students at Busy Bees passed the kindergarten readiness assessment test in 2011, compared to a 70 percent rate for English-speaking students throughout the rest of the corporation.

The negative reaction to the question on the Nov. 6 ballot has been attributed to opposition about increasing property taxes to fund the initiative locally. That certainly was a factor, but other issues need to be considered.

Chief among them was a clear attitude that the measure would have a tremendously negative impact on private child care providers, even forcing some of them out of business. Although school officials did strive to work with the private providers, there was still a negative attitude among some of those providers and their clients.

That’s not to say that minds can’t be changed, perhaps with different approaches.

Public attitudes certainly have taken 180-degree turns in the past with a little retooling of measures.

In 2001 an ambitious $115 million school building initiative was soundly defeated by opponents. Both the BCSC board and administration officials admitted that they had made errors in presenting the plan to the public and vowed to be more inclusive in future efforts.

Ironically, a number of the elements that were a part of the 2001 proposal were adopted in piecemeal fashion, the $35 million allocated for a new Central Middle School in 2004, for instance.

It is that kind of careful and inclusive approach that should guide community leaders in this latest effort to improve education at all levels.

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