March 7, 2017

A Tale Of Two Pre-K Bills: What Is The Future Of Early Ed?

Article origination IPBS-RJC
Students at a preschool camp in Avon, Ind., play a counting game. Many are calling on the legislature to expand the current pre-K pilot program to help more kids. - Elle Moxley/StateImpact Indiana

Students at a preschool camp in Avon, Ind., play a counting game. Many are calling on the legislature to expand the current pre-K pilot program to help more kids.

Elle Moxley/StateImpact Indiana

The second half of the legislative session begins this week, and the House and Senate have two very different bills to expand state funded pre-K.

Both bills passed out of their original chambers and are now being considered by the opposite chamber of the statehouse. Before the session, both Republicans and Democrats supported expanding the pilot program and allocating more money for preschool scholarships for low-income children.

Let’s take a look at these two pre-K proposals and where each bill stand now:

Adding Vouchers To The Pre-K Equation

The House version of the pre-K bill, House Bill 1004, makes a few tweaks to the state’s current pre-K pilot program, On My Way Pre-K.

One of those tweaks is creating a grant for preschool providers already expanding their programs to include more children with the state scholarship. The bill also expands the program from five to 10 counties.

All of these changes had bipartisan support before the session, but Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis) added another change, and it is controversial: It adds an new pathway through which students could receive state vouchers to attend private school.

Right now, there are seven “pathways” for a student to receive a state voucher, if the student’s family already meets the income requirement. Those include attending a public school with an F grade, having a sibling who receives a voucher, and qualifying for special education programs.

Behning’s amendment would create an eighth pathway: students who receive a pre-K scholarship would automatically be eligible for a state voucher for kindergarten. So if a 4- or 5-year-old receives a preschool scholarship, they could also receive a private school voucher for kindergarten, meaning they would never attend an Indiana public school.

This could mean a big increase in the voucher system. Right now there is a cap on the number of state vouchers for private schools. But this bill does not include a limit on the number of vouchers that could be given to qualified pre-K students.

Some House Republicans objected to this part of the bill. Many Democrats voted against it. With this pushback, there’s a chance there would still be House support for the pre-K scholarship expansion if the Senate removes this language.

The House version of this bill does not lay out a specific dollar amount for the program.

Senate Proposal Decreases Funding For Pre-K

Unlike the House bill, the Senate’s version includes a specific funding increase.

Currently, the state gives $10 million a year for state-funded pre-K scholarships. Before the session began Gov. Eric Holcomb, Republicans, Democrats and business leaders in the state wanted to see that increased to $20 million a year.

Senate Appropriations Chair and member of the Senate education committee, Rep. Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville), reduced the bill’s original $10 million increase to $3 million.

His version of the bill also includes $1 million for preschool home school providers.

Now, both chambers are considering the other’s bill, in addition to the budget, where the final allocation and stipulations will be decided.

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