Preschool advocates, both in Indianapolis and across the state, have pushed for big funding boosts this year to grow the state’s program for low-income families. But as the session winds down, it seems less and less likely that anything but a modest increase could become reality.
Gov. Eric Holcomb reiterated on Friday his support for expanding the number of kids served by Indiana’s preschool program, a position that is at odds with the much smaller proposal that passed the Senate last week.
“Most important for me is that we double the number of students that have access to preschool,” Holcomb said. “How we get there, I’m willing to be open-minded about it.”
How to expand the state’s preschool program, which provides grants for 4-year-olds from low-income families, has been a key education issue during the 2017 session. Some lawmakers have called for major increases, while others have been skeptical about whether further investment is prudent.
The Indiana Senate put its support behind an amended version of House Bill 1004, which would allow all of the state’s 92 counties to participate. The original House plan also only expanded the program to up to 10 counties.
But in the Senate’s budget proposal, also released last week, only $4 million per year would be added to the program, bringing it up to about $16 million per year, rather than the $10 million increase that Holcomb and House Republican leaders have encouraged since the year began.
The Senate version also puts extra restrictions on parents, requiring they be employed, in job training or actively looking for a job before their child could receive a preschool grant. The bill even goes as far as requiring parents agree to certain attendance rates and to read to their kids each week. It’s unclear how such provisions would be enforced.
Another major change to the preschool plan is that it no longer has any language that would expand the state’s voucher program to children who receive a preschool grant, a big point of contention earlier in the session when the bill passed the House.
The preschool bill is likely headed back to lawmakers so the House and Senate can work out differences before it can move to the governor. Lawmakers have a little less than three weeks to come to a compromise.