-- A powerful Indiana Senate panel on Thursday slashed a proposed funding
increase for a state program that sends poor children to preschool,
jeopardizing a major pillar of Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb's agenda.
The move imperils
efforts by Republican and Democratic education advocates to help Indiana
catch up with more than 40 other states that offer significant preschool
programs, according to 2015 figures from the National Institute for Early
Education Research at Rutgers University.
It's just the
latest set-back for the new governor this week. Senate Republicans joined
Democrats on Monday to shoot down a proposal that would make Indiana's state
schools superintendent a position appointed by the governor. That change,
which is also sought by House Republicans, was another key part of Holcomb's
agenda for the session.
"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," Holcomb spokeswoman Stephanie Wilson
said in a statement to The Associated Press. "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 also noted
that the governor's full funding increase was included in House Republicans'
control both chambers of the Legislature still have about two months to
negotiate funding details for the preschool program. Still, GOP budget
writer Sen. Luke Kenley, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, is
known for his resolve and has a long track record of turning down funding
requests for programs and pet projects sought by lawmakers over the years.
funding for preschool programs was a major issue in the governor's race last
year. Democrat John Gregg called for a universal program, while Holcomb said
he supported expanded access for poor kids. The state currently spends $10
million a year on a preschool pilot program, called On My Way Pre-k, which
is offered in five counties. But advocates say demand far outstrips
available funding and sought $50 million for preschool programs in the next
The Thursday vote
by the Senate Appropriations Committee reduced a $10 million a year increase
that Holcomb sought to $3 million. The Senate measure also would also set
aside $1 million for a new pilot program that would pay for families to use
special software allowing them to teach preschool to their children at home.
Democrats on the
committee supported the proposal, though they say much more money is needed
and that they voted for the bill to keep the issue alive.
The current pilot
program was created at the behest of former Gov. Mike Pence, now the vice
president, over the objection of many skeptics. But Pence shocked advocates
when he opted not to seek $80 million in federal preschool funding for the
The adoption of a
statewide program has proven politically difficult with tea party groups,
religious conservatives and a network of home schoolers opposed.