INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
A plan to use state funds to pay for children of low-income families to
attend preschool is drawing questions from Indiana lawmakers concerned about
Education Committee pondered the proposal for more than two hours Wednesday
afternoon. Paying for early education has become a hot topic among lawmakers
from both parties in recent years.
Under the House
Republican plan, families earning less than 185 percent of the federal
poverty level in five selected counties would get state aid to send their
children to public, private or religious preschools that meet certain
In a rare move,
Gov. Mike Pence urged lawmakers to approve the measure during the hearing.
It was the first time Pence has testified in favor of a bill since being
poverty is not only a stated goal of our administration, but I know that
it’s a goal that all of us share,” Pence said. “I’ve come to the conclusion
that we will not succeed in this fight if we don’t honestly deal with the
fact that too many children don’t do well in school simply because they
begin their academic careers unprepared to learn.”
Supporters of the
measure hope it will earn General Assembly approval amid mixed reviews of
the effectiveness of early childhood education. Varying studies show
different results, showing either preschool can be a great help to children
or have little effect at all. However, critics point to limited academic
impact, most commonly shown in the federally funded Head Start program.
both praised efforts to help underserved children and expressed the need to
address infrastructure concerns, such as lack of necessary transportation
for eligible children and funding issues.
Sen. Luke Kenley,
R-Noblesville, the Senate’s lead budget writer, expressed reluctance to
commit to funding a future program before hashing out the next budget as a
“We’re going to be
funding everything in the state on level playing field,” Kenley said. “But
if we pass this, does that mean it’s going to get a priority?”
Services Agency, which analyzes bills for the General Assembly, estimates
the project could cost anywhere between about $7.5 million and $30 million
per year. An Indiana Office of Management and Budget report backed by Pence
predicts the program could cost about $10.6 million for roughly 1,500
The cost will vary
depending on which counties the state selects for the pilot. Including
Marion County, for example, could bump the price tag up.
Sen. Pete Miller, R-Avon, said building an early childhood education program
for students of low-income families is necessary for Indiana.
“I understand there
are issues with the bill itself, but there is a real need,” said Miller, the
Senate sponsor of the bill. “I would encourage you to engage in the
conversation on how to address that, whether it’s this bill in its form or
some other form.”
A committee vote on
the bill is expected next week. The full Senate’s support is needed before
the legislation can head to Pence’s desk for his signature.