INDIANAPOLIS – Gov. Mike Pence took a field trip to an Indianapolis preschool Wednesday in a last-ditch effort to salvage his early-learning proposal.
“I think the time is now to start a voluntary pre-K scholarship program for disadvantaged children,” he said.
The House this year passed an unfunded, five-county pilot preschool program that would start in fall 2015. But the Senate gutted the legislation and instead will study the issue for possible implementation in next year’s budget session.
Indiana is one of nine states that doesn’t use public dollars for preschool.
Surrounded by 4-year olds coloring, singing vowels and reading at Shepherd Community Center, Pence told reporters that children who start school not ready to learn fall behind in kindergarten and stay behind.
“Programs like these pre-K classrooms make a difference in the lives of Hoosier families,” he said.
Pence said the legislature can set up the pilot program and study the issue further at the same time. Passing the framework of a program now puts pressure on lawmakers next year to fund it first in the budget.
He said he has a positive relationship with Indiana lawmakers, even though it has been Republicans who have undone key portions of the GOP governor’s legislative agenda.
“The legislative process occasionally involves differences of opinion, and we respect that,” Pence said.
The Indiana Chamber of Commerce is behind Pence on the issue, saying that creating a study committee isn’t enough.
“We firmly agree with Gov. Pence that there is no reason we can’t and shouldn’t go forward this year with the preschool pilot program in addition to the study committee,” Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar said.
“We urge that the pilot program be restored in the bill. The situation needs immediate attention because of Indiana’s growing achievement gap for students from lower-income families.
“These students deserve to have the opportunity to start their education foundation on the right foot and be better prepared for the academic expectations that await them,” Brinegar said. “ This preschool bill is a clear way to help make that happen.”