Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Indiana House Education Panel OKs Pre-K Voucher Proposal

Students eat lunch at Busy Bees Academy, a public preschool in Columbus, Ind.

Students eat lunch at Busy Bees Academy, a public preschool in Columbus, Ind.

The Indiana House Education Committee gave first-round approval to a small-scale preschool voucher program today that would require participating students to take a kindergarten readiness assessment.

House Bill 1004 is similar to a preschool proposal that faltered last session. But this year the measure has the backing of Gov. Mike Pence. The proposal would provide low-income 4-year-olds with vouchers to attend high quality pre-K programs.

Shannon Kiely-Heider is the director of state government relations at Cummins. The Columbus-based engineering company helped establish a pre-K pilot program called Busy Bees that helps prepare students entering kindergarten.

“In order for Cummins to grow in Indiana, it is important that we are able to access a pipeline of qualified workers from our local high schools and higher education institutions,” Kiely-Heider told the committee.

She added that the proposal would help Busy Bees expand after having to cut back this year when a referendum to provide public money for preschool filed.

But others are concerned that families that receive financial assistance for pre-K would also automatically qualify for the state’s K-12 voucher program. Frank Bush is executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association.

“We don’t believe that the voucher system needs to be attached to this,” Bush told lawmakers. “We need to be looking more at full state funding regarding the educational program for these children.”

The panel approved the bill 10 to 3. Reps. Rhonda Rhoads, R-Corydon; Jeff Thompson, R-Lizton; and Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, voted against the measure. Smith noted he shared Bush’s concerns about state funding for pre-K being linked to vouchers but would still consider voting for the bill on the floor.

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