Gov. Mike Pence told a Senate committee Wednesday that he is determined to create a state-funded preschool program for the state’s lowest-income families.
In his first-ever testimony before a state legislative committee, Pence said he supports House Bill 1004, which creates a pilot preschool voucher program.
“I believe the time has come for a voluntary pre-K program to help Indiana’s low income kids,” the Republican governor said.
Under House Bill 1004, authored by Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, children who are 4-year-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.
The Senate Education Committee heard testimony on the proposal Wednesday but postponed a vote. The committee is expected to consider changes.
Already, Senate fiscal leaders have expressed concerns about the cost of the program. The bill includes no funding and Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley – who also serves on the education committee – has said it shouldn’t be considered until next year, when lawmakers are writing the next two-year budget.
Also, some senators say they’re concerned that – under the House bill – students who participate in the pre-kindergarten program would get automatic entry into the state’s voucher program, which uses state money to pay private school tuition for lower-income children.
Currently, students have to try public school first – unless they have a sibling in the program or would otherwise attend a failing school.
Indiana is currently one of only 10 states that does not offer some state funding for pre-K education.
Pence said every child deserves to start school ready to learn.
“We owe it to all of our children, especially the least of these, to see to it that they’re able to start school ready to succeed,” Pence said. “And I’m determined to work personally, with each of you, to advance educational opportunities for all the children of Indiana.”
John Sittler is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism studens.