More poor families who want help sending their children to preschool could have reason to rejoice next year.
Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma today announced that expanding preschool tuition scholarships would be one of his top priorities for the coming legislative session.
Other education priorities include a push to shift education dollars toward classroom expenses and away from school administrative and support services.
“We need to find a way to concentrate our education dollars in the classroom, where they are most effective with highly motivated teachers of high quality,” said Bosma, an Indianapolis Republican.
Bosma made education one of the centerpieces of his acceptance speech after being re-elected House speaker this afternoon during the General Assembly’s annual Organization Day. Lawmakers met for a short session to choose leaders and adopt basic rules before their work formally begins in January.
On preschool, Bosma called for expanding the preschool tuition vouchers that the state began as a pilot program in 2014. That $10 million program serves 1,585 kids in five counties, including Marion County, but demand for the program far exceeds availability.
Bosma is not alone in embracing the preschool expansion. Both the incoming governor, Eric Holcomb, the Indiana State Board of Education and incoming state schools superintendent, Jennifer McCormick, have called for more kids to receive the free service.
That’s a change from a few years ago when Gov. Mike Pence had to make a hard push to convince skeptical fellow Republicans to support state-funded preschool programs. This year, Holcomb favors a slow, deliberate expansion to a few counties at a time but Bosma said he believes the benefits of preschool are proven and he wants to move faster.
“I’d like to double or triple the program,” he said. “I don’t need to be convinced. I’ve seen it first hand and many others have. Not everyone is of the same option, and we do have fiscal constraints in the coming session that are very real.”
Democratic House leader Scott Pelath of Michigan City said his party also wants a faster expansion.
“I don’t really understand the hesitancy,” he said. “This state has been tiptoeing over hot coals on its way to pre-K. Let’s get it to the kids who need it. There are kids who need it in every county in Indiana.”
Bosma did not offer details on his claim that Indiana schools spend too much on administrative and support spending, nor did he outline any ideas for what changes should occur, saying lawmakers would figure that out during the session.
If there is money to shift, he said he wanted it to go to teachers to help make the profession more attractive to top college graduates.
“We need to continue to find ways to treat teaches as faculty rather than factory workers,” he said. “We’ve made progress on this but we need to do more. We need to free them from regulatory burdens and bureaucratic control to do the job they desire to do.”
Pelath said he wasn’t sure Bosma was right that spending on non-classroom supports was out of line, but he endorsed the need to pay teachers more.
“That requires careful analysis after which there could be some differences in interpretation,” he said. “But unambiguously we have to make sure teachers are fairly compensated for the market-based reason that you have to attract very good people to the profession.”