-- Republicans who control the Statehouse are deeply divided on how -- or if
-- Indiana should move forward on a proposed expansion of a state-funded
preschool program for poor kids.
Senate voted Tuesday to sharply curtail a request by Republican Gov. Eric
Holcomb to increase funding for the state’s five-county pilot program by $10
million and instead offered a $3 million boost. At the same time, they moved
forward on their own $1 million plan to offer a new -- and cheaper -- online
preschool program designed by a Utah-based company which boasts on its
website that it “only takes 15 minutes a day.”
That’s creates a
large chasm between the House and the Senate on the issue as this year’s
legislative session reaches its midpoint.
“I’m doing my best
to limit any criticism to anyone I have to work with here for the rest of
the session,” said Republican Speaker Brian Bosma, who supports Holcomb’s
proposal and thinks the state should set aside even more money. “This is not
the first time we’ve had this discussion.”
Indiana lags behind
most other states when it comes to preparing disadvantaged children for
school, a bipartisan coalition of education advocates say. More than 40
other states offer significant preschool programs, but Indiana is not one,
according to 2015 figures from the National Institute for Early Education
Research at Rutgers University.
five-county pilot program was created at the behest of former Gov. Mike
Pence, now the vice president, though advocates say demand far outstrips
“The fact that we
are one of only eight states that doesn’t have a statewide program should
tell you something,” said Sen. Vaneta Becker, R-Evansville.
There are deep
divisions among Republicans about whether preschool programs are effective.
Republican Sen. Luke Kenley, chairman of the Senate Appropriations
Committee, says there are already millions of dollars made available for
programs that cover children who are underserved.
The bill approved
Tuesday is sponsored by Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, and initially
contained the full funding increase Holcomb sought. But changes made to it
last week in Kenley’s committee cut it down in size.
The measure would
spend a grand total of $16 million on prekindergarten. But $12 million of
that is money the state already spends on pre-k programing. And $1 million
of it would go to the online program Senate Republicans want. That leaves a
small sum to conduct a statewide expansion called for under the bill.
That’s a far cry
from the $50 million that advocates initially hoped lawmakers would set
“We’re only at the
halfway mark. There’s plenty of time left,” Holcomb spokeswoman Stephanie
Wilson said. “The governor looks forward to working closely with lawmakers
in the Senate to advance a responsible expansion of the state’s pre-K
program that benefits more children from low-income families.”
their nose as they voted for the measure to keep the issue alive. But they
say more money is needed and take issue with the $1 million set aside for
the online program called UPSTART, which was created by The Waterford
Kenley says the
program would be a boon for parents in rural communities who may live a long
way from a preschool.
questioned whether spending $1 million on a program that only offers 15
minutes of instruction was a good use of tax money.
Bosma wondered if
the online program would meet quality requirements.
“I have no clue
whether that program would qualify -- I suspect it may not,” he said.