Pence signs bill establishing preschool pilot program

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence today signed into law a bill creating a preschool pilot program that was one of the centerpieces of his legislative agenda.

Pence pushed hard for the pilot, which at one point was shelved by lawmakers in favor of a study of preschool, but was revived after a lobbying effort by the governor.

The program, which could get underway as early as next fall, marks the first time Indiana will offer direct state aid to support preschool tuition for poor children, taking the Hoosier state off a list of nine states that have resisted doing so as other states have embraced preschool support.

“I will always believe the best pre-K program is going to be a prosperous family that can provide a child with the kind of enrichment in the home that every child deserves,” Pence said, speaking about the bill on Monday. “But the realization I came to over the last year is that’s simply not the case for too many Indiana kids.”

To save the  preschool program, lawmakers placed the program in the budget of the Family and Social Services Administration and allowed the agency to keep up to $10 million Pence had ordered it to cut due to poor revenue projections so it could use that money to fund the program.

In addition, the bill now allows preschool providers or FSSA to match another $5 million in grants or private contributions. The entire program, therefore, could spend $15 million in public and private money on tuition support for children to attend preschools.

The bill establishes income eligibility limit for a family four to $30,289 annually. For families, tuition aid would range between $2,500 and $6,800 a year depending on income. The pilot could serve as many as 4,000 four year olds in five counties. It is only limited by budget. There is no cap on the number of participants.

Among the provisions that were added to the bill was a requirement that parents of children in the program agree their preschools’ parental involvement requirements.

“I’m grateful for an affirmation by the General Assembly that parental involvement is critical,” Pence said. “As we look at the programs and the counties where we’re going to be launching this pilot program, we’re now charged by the General Assembly to make sure those programs recognize the importance of parental involvement and I’m confident we’ll meet that.”

Lawmakers frequently cite parents who fail to support their children as a major impediment to their academic success.

“I think common sense tells you that parental involvement is vital to a child’s future and to their success, whether it’s in early education or throughout their academic careers,” he said. “Looking for programs that affirm the engagement of parental involvement I think is altogether appropriate.”