Indiana lawmakers recommend expanding publicly funded pre-K

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A panel of Indiana lawmakers has recommended that the state expand publicly funded early childhood education programming.

Members of the Republican-led Interim Study Committee on Fiscal Policy on Wednesday didn't provide details on how broad they think the expansion should be, The Indianapolis Star reported.

Both the Republican and Democratic candidates for Indiana governor have proposed expanding pre-K as part of their education plans, but the parties have differed on how it should be done.

"What we want to do is close the educational gap between at-risk kids, and this is one step," said Republican Rep. Tim Brown, chairman of the Indiana House Ways and Means Committee. "It may not be a complete package, but it is one small step to close that educational gap."

Meanwhile, Rep. Greg Porter, the House Democratic fiscal leader, said any expansion should cover all children.

A new study by Indiana University exploring the effects of supporting pre-K projected a $3.80 to $4 return for every dollar the state contributes to the program. Researchers came to the conclusion by reviewing potential savings to the criminal justice system and special education programs, as well as higher wages expected for participants of the program.

"Unlocking access to high-quality pre-K is one of the most important ways we can impact the life trajectories of children born into poverty, and their success has considerable implications on our state's economic outlook," Michael Huber, president of the Indy Chamber, said in a statement on the study. "The business community is encouraged by new research demonstrating a four-to-one return on investment in pre-K."

Lawmakers in January will commence the new legislative session.

"At this point, we are really leaving it up to the legislators to decide what dollar amount the additional funding will be," said Connie Bond Stuart, chair of the United Way of Central Indiana's board. "We want to make sure that more of these children have access to a high-quality early childhood education . that's our message to the legislators."

Indiana currently provides $10 million each year for its pre-K pilot program.

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