Gov. Mike Pence visited a pre-kindergarten class Wednesday in an attempt to ignite legislative support for one of his top agenda items – state-funded preschool – even though Senate leaders seem determined to study the issue for at least another year.
Sitting in a classroom of 4-year-olds, Pence said he doesn’t oppose additional study of the issue, but he said lawmakers should still move forward with a five-county pilot program approved by the House.
“The time is now,” Pence said simply.
The governor’s visit to the Shepherd Community Center on the east side of Indianapolis came after the Republican-controlled Senate Education Committee voted unanimously to create a commission to look at the merits of preschool and how to fund it, including the flexibility of using existing federal funds for the program as well as dollars from foundations and charitable organizations.
“Programs like this make a difference in the lives of Hoosier families,” Pence said.
Currently, 60 3-and 4-yearold students are enrolled in the pre-kindergarten program at Shepherd. Teachers there said many students’ families struggle to pay the $100 annual tuition and are aided by school grants and donors.
“I have it in my heart to extend pre-kindergarten to our disadvantaged kids,” Pence said. “I do believe we can initiate the pilot program in a fiscally responsible way.”
Jenny Izaguirre, the mother of preschooler Elizabeth, said she is thankful for the opportunity her child has been given to attend Shepherd and can see a difference in her child’s behavior and knowledge. Elizabeth’s sister attends second grade at the school using a state voucher.
“The voucher helps because we can now afford education for our kids,” Izaguierre said.
The pilot program passed by the House would expand the state’s voucher program so it can be used for pre-kindergarten. It would also allow students who had used the preschool vouchers to bypass a current requirement that most students attend public school before using public funds to pay for private school tuition.
Donna Dames, the director of academics at Shepherd, said 97 percent of school’s kids – grades kindergarten through fourth grade – receive state vouchers.
She said expanding that program would help children who not only attend Shepherd but across the state as well. Pence said that’s his goal, although he has only until mid-March to convince members of the Senate to move forward now.
“We’ve got a long way go,” Pence said, “even if there’s a short time to get there.”
Paige Clark is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.