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Editorial: Voters, help children get start on early education

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Voters in November will decide whether to allow Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. to raise property taxes to support a prekindergarten program for the district’s neediest students over the next seven years.

The school district is seeking a tax increase of 5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. That amounts to about $16 per year for the owner of a $100,000 home and about $32 for the owner of a $150,000 home.

Here’s what voters should consider: A small investment in early education now will produce benefits that translate into greater savings in the future for taxpayers.

The savings come from higher employee earnings and reduced need for special education, welfare assistance and costs associated with crime.

It behooves local taxpayers to support early education, as the benefits are immense.

Economists agree. They say such an investment in education generates future tax savings.

Educators agree. They say children who are prepared to enter kindergarten, because of involvement in a prekindergarten program, are 30 percent more likely to graduate from high school. And prekindergarten helps with socialization, they say.

Lawmakers agree. Gov. Mike Pence, a Columbus native, said the local Busy Bees Academy in Columbus was the inspiration for a new pilot program that will provide prekindergarten funding to five counties.

Busy Bees, started in 2010, allows disadvantaged students to attend prekindergarten through a lottery system. Its students are 20 percent more likely to meet kindergarten expectations. However, funding for Busy Bees scholarships ends next year, which will be its fifth in operation.

Bartholomew Consolidated says the tax increase would generate $1.8 million annually for about 450 students who cannot afford the educational opportunities available through private preschools or tuition-based public preschools. Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches will be eligible for a scholarship.

Consider this: The issue of affording prekindergarten won’t go away without help. Last year, about 42 percent of all Bartholomew Consolidated students participated in the free and reduced-price lunch program, and more were eligible. Families struggling to feed their children won’t be able to pay for preschool programs.

Something else to consider: Even if Bartholomew Consolidated’s tax rate increases from 87 to 92 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, it still will be below the state average of $1.05 per $100 of assessed valuation.

The question will be clearer to voters at the ballot because of a change in state law that permits wording about how the tax increase will be used. That’s a very good change by lawmakers.

But the answer should be apparent before stepping to the voting booth. An entire community benefits when children get an early start on education.

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