Preschool education bill could be in trouble

The Senate Education Committee could strip pre-kindergarten language out of a bill passed by the House and insert authorization for a study committee about the issue instead.

Education Chairman Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said some senators are concerned about the bill–which would create a five-county pilot preschool program–due to its cost and connection to the state’s private school voucher system.

“It’s got some opposition,” Kruse said Tuesday. “We’ll have to wait to see what happens.”

Under House Bill 1004, authored by Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, children who are 4 years old, have a family income less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level, and live in one of five counties selected to test the program would qualify for state-funded pre-kindergarten.

Under the House bill, students who receive state-funded preschool would be eligible to move directly into the state’s private school voucher program.

The House approved the bill and the Senate Education Committee took testimony on the proposal last week. Gov. Mike Pence told lawmakers then that, “I believe the time has come for a voluntary pre-K program to help Indiana’s low income kids.”

Pence has made state-funded pre-K a cornerstone of his legislative agenda.

But senators have been more skeptical about state-funded preschool. Some fiscal leaders say it might prove too expensive, while other senators are unconvinced that the programs help children succeed.

Kruse said the state and federal governments already spend $350 million on pre-kindergarten, day care and Head Start programs that serve 35,000 to 50,000 students in Indiana.

If the Senate removes the preschool program from the bill, the issue won’t be dead for the session. Because the bill passed the House with the pre-K program in tact, the language could be revived at the end of the session.

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