INDIANAPOLIS – The Senate Education Committee quashed a pilot preschool program Wednesday – sending the issue of pre-kindergarten and early learning to a summer study committee instead.
From a practical standpoint, the change doesn't have much effect because the bill would have created the framework of a state program but there was never any funding attached.
At best, the five-county program would have begun in the fall of 2015. That could still happen under the study, with the legislature passing the program next year when it also crafts a new two-year state budget.
But politically it was a severe blow to Gov. Mike Pence's legislative agenda. He was pushing the preschool bill hard – even showing up to testify on its behalf last week.
“Governor Pence believes every child deserves to start school ready to learn, and he believes now is the time for a voluntary pre-K program to help Indiana’s low-income kids,” said spokeswoman Kara Brooks. “The Governor looks forward to continuing to work with members of the General Assembly to advance this important initiative.”
Indiana is one of only 10 states that doesn't directly fund pre-kindergarten education. Supporters said statistics show kids in poverty show up to school already behind.
House Bill 1004 originally would have used the current private school voucher system to help low-income four-year-olds in five counties attend a preschool program. Up to 1,000 kids a year might be affected. The counties had not been identified.
Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, offered the amendment to further study the issue. Some of the issues that will be considered are whether federal money can be sought; rigorous accountability standards for preschool; parental involvement; what state agency should oversee the program and what is the appropriate income standard to be used.
"The whole effort is to try to put this thing in a position where we can have a product worthy of our consideration if it should be funded," he said. "It's a step forward. It does advance the cause."
Sen. John Broden, D-South Bend, voted 'yes' on the bill because he didn't want it to die before final negotiations.
"I'll be candid in stating I had hoped we would move further with the Senate bill," he said. "Maybe additional strides can be made in conference committee. I don't want the bill to meet a negative fate at this point."