Lawmakers voted Tuesday to advance a proposal to expand state-funded preschool in Indiana.
In a 41-9 vote, state senators pushed ahead a two-year, $32 million proposal that would modestly expand state-funded preschool beginning July 2017.
“It is not universal pre-K, there are a finite number of potential 4-year-olds [covered],” says Sen. Travis Holdman (R-Blufton), who authored the bill.
The preschool expansion proposal would increase annual funding for the state’s current preschool pilot from $10 million to $13 million. It would also add $1 million for “in-home early education services.”
Under current law, state funding is available for low-income children in five specific counties to attend highly rated preschools. This expansion would allow about 1,850 new children to attend elsewhere in the state.
Many Republicans, including Gov. Eric Holcomb, Democrats and business leaders wanted a larger increase. In the months leading up to Tuesday’s Senate vote, state-funded pre-K expansion enjoyed broad support from all of these groups, and Holcomb called for it to a least double the amount of current funding.
Yet, last week the Senate appropriations committee chose its own path and cut the bill’s proposed increase, from $10 million to $3 million. On that occasion, Republican Senate Appropriations Chair Luke Kenley said he doesn’t want to expand the program more until he sees a study showing it is effective.
However, Senate Democrats raise similar concerns over the bills funding for “in-home early education services.”
“Five percent of funds is being carved out for a program that has not been studied for decades, like preschool has,” says Sen. Mark Stoops (D-Bloomington). “It’s important that we expand preschool in the state, that kind of giveaway is removed and we increase the funding for this program.”
The Indiana State Teachers Association, the state’s largest teacher union, supports preschool expansion, but raised similar concerns over money going to digital programs.
“The little amount of increase that’s going into this, we’re taking a million of that and putting it into a program that we have no evidence whether its worked or not,” says John O’Neill, ISTA spokesperson.
Other Democrats raised concerns over the amount of funding brought to the expansion.
“I appreciate that we are increasing somewhat that level of funding, but this is something that every child in the state of Indiana could benefit from,” says Sen. Tim Lanane (D-Anderson).
The bill also maintains funding for the state’s early education matching grants. That bill, SB 276, now moves to the House.