By Shelby Mullis
INDIANAPOLIS — Lawmakers stripped a pre-kindergarten bill of its original language Wednesday, removing a provision for school vouchers and providing fewer dollars to expand the state’s pre-K pilot program.
In its previous form, House Bill 1004 would not only expand the state’s On My Way Pre-K pilot program, but also allow low-income families to receive a voucher through a state pre-K scholarship. That would grant children of low-income families the opportunity to attend a school of the parent’s choice, such as a private school, with the voucher.
When the Senate Education and Career Development Committee heard testimony on the bill last week, several people pushed legislators to remove the portion dealing with school vouchers.
In his testimony, retired educator Vick Smith said the voucher language would amount to the state’s biggest expansion of voucher eligibility since 2013.
The Senate committee voted Wednesday to amend Indianapolis Republican Rep. Bob Behning’s bill, making it identical to Senate Bill 276, which passed the Senate earlier this month.
While the House bill would still give eligible pre-K providers a grant to expand its service to more children in low-income families, it would only allocate $3 million more to the $10 million the state currently spends on the program.
Gov. Eric Holcomb and House Republicans asked for an increase of $10 million to expand the program — a $7 million difference from the Senate’s version.
HB 1004 passed as amended 8-1, but one lawmaker said it’s too early to expand the program.
“I have real concerns with expanding an unfinished pilot,” said Sen. John Crane, R-Avon. “As I understand, the original pilot was to go to 12 years with a first five-year reporting, five-year pilot. A 12-year pilot with the first reporting at five years. This pilot has gone for less than two and we’re already expanding.”
The state’s On My Way Pre-K pilot program currently exists in five Indiana counties — Allen, Lake, Jackson, Marion and Vanderburgh. The amended bill would allow eligible pre-K providers in any Indiana county to apply for the early education grant pilot program.
The Senate committee’s amendment would also give priority to children in Indiana foster care to enroll in the state’s pre-K program, and remove a provision requiring two annual inspections and a long-term study.
The bill moves to the Senate Appropriations Committee for further consideration.
Shelby Mullis is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.