Preschool voucher program faces setback

Lawmaker proposes sending plan to study committee

INDIANAPOLIS - A plan to create an experimental preschool voucher program in Indiana is facing a setback at the Statehouse.

The program is one of Gov. Mike Pence’s initiatives, but some lawmakers don’t think they have enough information.

Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said he doesn’t see the members of his chamber voting on a pilot preschool voucher program this year.

Kenley is the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee and sits on another panel scheduled to discuss the program Wednesday.

"We all know there are some 4-year-olds in homes where they're not being prepared for school and education, so we probably need to do something about that. But, when we do that, it's going to be very important that we do that correctly," Kenley said.

Kenley said he will urge his colleagues to send the plan to a study committee for further review. He met with Pence to explain his intent Tuesday morning.

"It isn't my intent to send it there to bury it, it is my intent to put it in a structure where it'll actually be successful," Kenley said.

The voluntary preschool voucher program is one of the governor’s major initiatives this year.

He provided rare testimony in support of the bill last week. His plan is to create a pilot program for up to 1,000 of the state’s neediest 4-year-olds in five counties.

"The intent is to see if this is successful, are those kids getting ready to learn. There will be a lot of focus on providers -- are they rigorous and educational as they are," Sen. Pete Miller, R-Avon, said.

The plan for a study committee comes as a nationally known economist and early childhood education advocate urged lawmakers to move forward with the idea.

Dr. Robert Dugger with Ready Nation said preschool is an early investment with long-term gains in keeping Indiana competitive.

"Kids that get a quality pre-K education come to school better-prepared. And even if they have an equal cognitive knowledge over time, the high school graduation rates for the pre-K kids are all significantly higher," Dugger said.

The price tag for the pilot program is $9 million to $11 million dollars.

Kenley said lawmakers need to defer a decision until next year to see how much money is available in the budget.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Pence said he believes now is the time for a voluntary pre-K program and he looks forward to continuing to work with the General Assembly on the initiative.

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