Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Q&A: Why Indiana Lawmakers Aren’t Ready To Fund Preschool

Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, sits on the Indiana Senate Education Committee and chairs the Appropriations Committee.

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, sits on the Indiana Senate Education Committee and chairs the Appropriations Committee.

“This,” says Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, referring to a proposed preschool program, “is almost a potential budget buster.”

Gov. Mike Pence asked state lawmakers this year to approve a small-scale preschool pilot program for low-income 4-year-olds. But Kenley, who chairs the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, says he’s not ready to commit to state-funded pre-K.

That’s why the Senate Education Committee said the governor’s preferred proposal was too expensive and elected instead to study the issue this summer.

Though there’s a chance lawmakers could still approve some funding for a pilot program, budget hawks remain skeptical of the plan.

Here’s a lightly-edited transcript of our interview with Kenley:

Brandon Smith, Indiana Public Broadcasting: This is the second year in a row the Senate Education Committee has scaled back a preschool pilot proposal that came over from the House. What reservations do Senate Republicans have with state-funded pre-K?

Luke Kenley: We have two sets of reservations. One of them has to do with the policy of the issue itself. The second reservation has to do with the potential cost because this is almost a potential budget buster.

You talked about the first reservation is with the policy itself. What exactly about state-funded pre-K gives you pause?

We think in most families that it’s more important for the family to be engaged with the young child, do the reading to the child, participate in all those things, and participate when they go to school as well. We don’t think that the state, for example, to go to an extreme, should take all children at a young age and raise them communally. That’s the picture that some of our caucus members have in their minds.

You also talked about concerns over the cost of something like this. You told the bill’s author, Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, that passing this program in a non-budget year would require lawmakers give it special treatment when you write a budget next year in 2015. Would the conversation have been different if this were a budget year, or do you still think this is something that has to go to a summer study committee first?

I think we’re not ready. I think the 10 points we raised for the summer study committee are all things we need to discuss. For example, we have a Head Start program in Indiana that does deal with age group there. It’s a federal program. It costs $115 million a year for the Indiana segment … In addition, we have another set of federal dollars of about $180 million dollars for childcare development — and mostly it’s childcare funds — so we have two resources that equate almost $400 million of federal dollars that could be used for this. I think we need to see if we can use those dollars first for a program.

The way the bill was drafted, about half the children in each age group — age 4 — were going to be qualifying for this program. The program would then qualify 40,000 children every year. Well, the program itself was projected as a $6,800 program per child. $6,800 times 40,000 is $272 million. It would far surpass any increase in school funding we’ve given to the K-12 schools in recent years.

Do you think the state has the infrastructure to administer a voucher-style pre-K program?

One of the things the bill itself says if they attend a pre-K program and get some education on this that they are then qualified for a voucher for a private school without ever going to a public school. So that’s an enormous expansion of the voucher program which is an enormous additional cost that we need to consider before we jump into these activities.

It seems pretty likely Rep. Behning will offer a similar proposal next session. Is the third time the charm, or is it too soon to say if 2015 will be the year for pre-K?

I think with the 10 points that were put together for the study, which were put together very thoughtfully, if we can answer those questions, maybe we can find a way to begin to agree on which group should receive services, who should be delivering the services — for example, their program has the FSSA, which is basically our welfare department, delivering this program. But if it’s designed to train a child to be ready for school, then the State Board of Education and the Department of Education should be establishing what should be taught, how you should be tested and how you should be prepared because they do that all the way through K-12.


  • Jorfer88

    Good point on amount of Head Start funding but what a quaint notion of parent involvement in the household. Indiana GOP wants to consider themselves realists on the budget but want to live in a magical land of unicorns in which the 40% of children currently born out of wedlock are not. Just cross your fingers that generation of children won’t repeat the cycle.

    • April Ige

      Jorfer88, you are spot on with your comments!!

  • J

    Eliminate public funding for charter schools and put the money back into the public system to support pre-K.

  • Kt

    Why are we continuing to throw money and programs at individuals that are not interested in bettering themselves first. Middle class families that work everyday to give their children more opportunity cannot afford the high quality preschool. While these children are the ones that would benefit the most because the parents are involved in their childrens education, development, and overall well-being. Why do we continue to take from individuals that are working hard everyday to make changes instead of holding their hands out for someone else to fund

  • Kt

    I am sick of picking my child up from the best daycare I can afford just to stand behind the mother that is still in their pajamas because they didn’t have anywhere to go that day, like work. Yet, these people continue to take their child to the free daycare because they do not want to deal with their children. People like myself have our children when we are not working and at home. I read to my child every night. I do puzzles, activities and educate myself on how to teach my child. We need to stop creating a society to where we continue to pay for people that expect a hand out. Everyday someone sells their food stamps. I have met too many people that wait for their welfare check and continue to have children that they are not supporting. There are many jobs and opportunities out there. Now we are going toe pans section 8 to the better neighborhoods. The neighborhoods that hard working individuals work to move away from crime and mischief. A better neighborhood does not make an individual want to do what is necessary to get a better job. All of the tools are there and these individuals can make changes if they want. Forcing people like myself to deal with these decisions is ridiculous.

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