Senate deals blow to Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s pre-K program from TheStatehouseFile.com on Vimeo.
By Lesley Weidenbener
INDIANAPOLIS — The Senate Education Committee on Wednesday stripped a state-funded, pre-kindergarten program out of a bill passed by the House and endorsed by Republican Gov. Mike Pence after lawmakers said they wanted more time to consider the issue.
The Republican-controlled committee voted unanimously to create a study commission instead that would look at ways to fund preschool, including the flexibility of using existing federal funds for the program as well as dollars from foundations and charitable organizations.
The move is a blow to a key part of Pence’s legislative agenda. He has proposed state-funded preschool for all low-income children. The House passed a more modest plan in House Bill 1004, which creates a five-county pilot program.
On Wednesday morning, Pence met for several hours with legislative leaders to talk about his agenda and other legislative issues. Later, his office issued a statement that said Pence “looks forward to continuing to work with members of the General Assembly” to create a pre-kindergarten program.
“Gov. Pence believes every child deserves to start school ready to learn and he believes now is the time for a voluntary pre-K program to help Indiana’s low-income kids,” the statement said.
But key senators have been concerned about the cost of state-funded preschool, even if it’s reserved for the state’s poorer children. Although House leaders have emphasized their proposal only creates a pilot program, Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley has said it could cost as much as $270 million annually if it was eventually implemented statewide.
“Indiana and the federal government currently spend approximately $277 million per year on early childhood development programs in our state,” said Kenley, who also serves on the education committee.
He said that last year, the General Assembly approved a pilot preschool program that offered $4 million in grants.
“Before we enact a new program, I believe it’s necessary to review our current resources and reach a decision that’s realistic for our state,” Kenley said.
Also, Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said Wednesday that senators want to study ways to take a more comprehensive approach to preparing kids succeed in school. He said that could mean doing more to educate parents, get books into children’s homes and provide other necessary services, possibly through privately funded programs.
The study approved by the Senate would also include a look at the economic impact and benefits of a pre-kindergarten program, other states’ standards for a similar program and the income guidelines that should be used to determine eligibility.
The commission members would include lawmakers, educators, business leaders, child development specialists and social services officials.