Brigid Curtis Ayer 
Indiana Catholic Conference
March 22, 2017 // National

Pre-K bill to expand pilot program, maintain parental rights advances

Brigid Curtis Ayer 
Indiana Catholic Conference

INDIANAPOLIS — A proposal to expand state-funded prekindergarten for at-risk children and maintain parental choice passed the Senate education panel 8-1 March 15 and moves to the Senate Appropriations panel for funding approval. The Indiana Catholic Conference supports the legislation.

Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, author of the expansion plan, House Bill 1004, presented it before the Senate Education and Career Development Committee, saying targeted, high-quality preschool has a high rate of return on investment. Behning said research points to high tangible and intangible outcomes, including higher education attainment, higher likelihood of maintaining employment, higher earning potential and reduced crime rate. Behning said the return on investment in pre-K education yields a $3 to $4 return for every $1 spent on pre-K.

The Indianapolis lawmaker calls pre-K a “wise investment,” especially over the long run, as one looks at the cost to the state of remediation down the road. Additionally, Behning said the investment in pre-K could help to reduce or prevent those in the at-risk group from needing welfare, addiction treatment or incarceration.

The preschool expansion bill builds upon the state’s On My Way Pre-K pilot program. It allows income-eligible 4-year-olds access to high-quality preschool education in five counties — Allen, Jackson, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh. Currently the pilot program serves approximately 2,300 low-income children. If passed, the proposal would expand the pilot program from five counties to any county in Indiana.

House Bill 1004 was amended by the Senate panel by a vote of 9-0. The Senate adopted its version of the pre-K expansion plan contained in Senate Bill 276. The amended version would dedicate $16 million dollars for the pre-K program, rather than the $20 million dollars in the original version of House Bill 1004. The Senate panel also removed voucher access language for pre-K children to enter kindergarten at the school of the parent’s choice, a provision the Indiana Catholic Conference supports. The amendment added a new feature to the plan which would give priority to children in foster care to access quality preschool.

Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference, said House Bill 1004 improves upon the current preschool program in that it increases access to high-quality preschool education for more children.

Tebbe explained the original version of House Bill 1004 contained voucher language that would have allowed income-eligible preschool children access to a K-12 voucher once the child reached kindergarten, including using a voucher for a nonpublic school, even a religiously-affiliated one.

“Typically, a kindergarten student cannot receive a choice scholarship, commonly referred to as a voucher, for a nonpublic school, but must enter a public school first,” said Tebbe. “Under the original version of House Bill 1004, children who qualify for a pre-K voucher because their family has a financial need would have been eligible for the choice scholarship for kindergarten.”

“While I’m disappointed the voucher piece of the pre-K program was removed in the Senate, I’m not surprised,” said Tebbe. “There are at least three aspects of the bill that are very positive as it relates to parental rights, nonpublic or religiously-affiliated preschools, and the common good. First, the measure would maintain parental choice in allowing a parent to choose the preschool that best suit the child, including religiously-affiliated, nonpublic or public pre-school. Second, the plan also would allow for a variety of ways a preschool program would be able to qualify as a state-approved, high-quality preschool program. Third, it reaches a targeted, at-risk population of low-income children who would gain access to preschool. For these reasons, the pre-K expansion plan is a positive step forward.”

Tebbe said many preschool programs in Indiana that are religiously-affiliated, or nonpublic, meet quality standards that exceed the state’s requirements to qualify as a high-quality preschool program. These programs would be eligible to serve as providers for children to access as part of the pre-K expansion plan.

According to the United Way of Central Indiana, Indiana is behind most states in pre-K enrollment, with only 36 percent of Hoosier children ages 3 to 4 years in such a program. The national average of the same age group in a pre-K program is 46 percent. Only seven states have a higher rate than Indiana of children not attending preschool.

Tebbe said the bill is likely to move to a conference committee during the month of April. Tebbe said he expects giving income-eligible, pre-K students’ access to the K-12 choice scholarship or voucher to be a part of the negotiation during conference committee.


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