Ball State has been awarded $1.43 million to help improve early childhood education in Indiana.

The money comes from Early Learning Indiana, which is a provider and advocate for “high-quality early learning education in Indiana.” ELI started under the name Day Nursery over 100 years ago but changed its name in Sept. 2014. 

According to its website, the group is an advocate for polices that help change early learning in Indiana through care and education at its Day Learning Center and by training childcare providers and advocates and referring parents to those providers.  

ELI received an endowment of $3 million from the Lilly Foundation to “increase the education of the current early childhood workforce,” said Beth Riedeman, director of statewide workforce and professional development services at ELI. 

A portion of that endowment, $1.43 million, will be going to Ball State students in the form of different scholarship opportunities. 

According to a report by the Early Learning Advisory Committee, using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the committee estimated that a projected 9,078 people would be in demand for early care and education by 2024. 

Riedeman said as higher quality programs grow and expand across the state, so too must the number of trained staff working in those programs. 

“Without highly-qualified and trained teachers, our children won’t be getting the care that they need and be kindergarten-ready, which is our ultimate goal,” Riedeman said. 

The grant also will fund the creation of the Master Teacher Certificate, which is for teachers with a bachelor's degree. After receiving the certificate, the teachers are taught to help improve the skillsets of other teachers or coworkers.

“Once they become a master teacher, they can help build the quality in their own work setting,” Riedeman said. 

Patricia Clark is a chairperson of the Department of Elementary Education and a professor of elementary education. Clark said early childhood education, which is from birth to age 8,  is crucial to a child’s brain development. She also said if those kids aren’t taught those skills early on, community and economic development will suffer along with it.

According to the Atlantic, studies have shown that children who are given a quality early childhood education can lead to “a lower likelihood of incarceration, less need for public assistance, longer-lasting marriages and a lower risk of heart disease.” The article also said states have been spending more on early childhood education year after year.

“We’re really excited to have partners like Ball State to be so ready to create the kind of model that we hope will carry the torch forward well beyond the life of this grant,” said Kirsten Eamon-Shine, director of statewide communications and engagements at ELI.

“Those of us in education have always recognized the importance,” Clark said. “But, I think business leaders are recognizing the importance — politicians are recognizing the importance. Just the fact that we finally have some state funding for early childhood education is an indication I think of other people seeing the importance in this.

“If our kids aren’t growing up with the skills that they need, whether those are social skills or cognitive skills, they’re not going to be able to contribute to the community or to the economy,”  Clark said.