By Adrianna Pitrelli
INDIANAPOLIS — The Senate Appropriations Committee is calling for less pre-kindergarten spending than the plans proposed by both the Indiana House and Gov. Eric Holcomb.
The committee Thursday altered Senate Bill 276 to include a $3 million increase to the On My Way Pre-K pilot program, which sends low-income children to pre-K. However, both the governor and the House want a $10 million increase to the program implemented by former Gov. Mike Pence.
The Senate plan spends a total of $13 million on the program — the $10 million the state currently spends plus $3 million to expand the program to more children. The Senate plan also would add $2 million for the Early Education Matching Grant program and $1 million for in-home early education services.
Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, said Indiana’s pre-K programs are not lagging behind those of other states.
“We spend $427 million per year on all kinds of services to children under the age of 5,” Kenley said. “There are 37 school corporations that have pre-K programs of their own using Title I money. We’re serving almost 20,000 people.”
Following Kenley’s remarks, Holcomb’s spokeswoman, Stephanie Wilson, said the governor will continue to work on a pre-K program that will benefit children from low-income families.
“It’s a key component of the governor’s legislative agenda and one that will contribute directly to the state’s efforts to build a 21st century skilled and ready workforce by ensuring Hoosier students have a strong beginning to their education,” Wilson said.
She said Holcomb is pleased to see both chambers engaged in the issue, noting that his expansion proposal remains in the House budget bill.
The Indiana Chamber of Commerce is pleased with the discussion happening in the Senate, but with a stipulation, said Caryl Auslander, the chamber’s vice president of Education, Workforce Development and Federal Affairs.
“While we are disappointed that the funding has decreased, we understand that this is the fourth inning of the legislative baseball game and that there is still a lot of time to negotiate,” Auslander said.
However, when Kenley was asked if the funding level was an opening negotiating position, he said: “Absolutely not.”
With weeks before the April revenue forecast, Auslander said she hopes there will be continued discussion on pilot pre-K programs.
Both Kenley and the author of the bill, Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, insisted the cuts are not drastic.
However, John Zody, chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, said Republicans are putting children at risk by not moving faster on the pre-K issue — which started before Holcomb took office.
“Former Gov. Mike Pence needlessly injected politics into preschool by denying $80 million in federal funding to expand options,” Zody said in a statement. “Gov. Holcomb can’t be silent. Eighty thousand Hoosier 4-year-olds are counting on him.”
Adrianna Pitrelli is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.