Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Despite 'Fiscal Fog,' Key Statehouse Players Warming To Pre-K Ideas

    Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

    Students at Busy Bees Academy, a public preschool in Columbus, Ind., eat a jello snack they made as part of a class project.

    Pre-K’s moment at the statehouse may be arriving, the Evansville Courier & Press reported this weekend.

    While a handful of publicly-funded preschool options exist in some communities, Indiana is one of a dozen states that currently don’t fund an early-childhood education program.

    But that might change this year. Statehouse reporter Eric Bradner writes key players are warming to the idea that the upcoming session — during which lawmakers will write a new two-year state budget — might be the time to devote state funding to pre-K. 

    Bradner reports:

    During a speech last week, Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, referred to “the early childhood learning opportunities that we all believe are so important for the future” as something Indiana should pursue.

    Afterward, Rep. Kreg Battles, D-Vincennes, said he hopes lawmakers can grab some “low-hanging fruit” such as offering state-funded early childhood education and vocational and technical education.

    And the Indiana Chamber of Commerce — the business lobbying group that championed the state’s 2011 laws, including a private school voucher program, expanded charter schools, tighter collective bargaining controls and more — is on board with the push.

    As we’ve noted, state lawmakers have balked at the sticker price of preschool programs in the past.

    We at StateImpact have also been trying to nail down what that sticker price might be. One 2006 estimate pegged the potential low-end cost at $68 million. With newer cost estimates, it’s not hard to envision a $100 million price tag.

    As Bradner notes, the state’s revenue picture will be key in determining what movement — if any — the General Assembly makes on pre-K. As the AP’s Tom LoBianco expounds:

    “The fiscal fog is thick” has become a favorite line for Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma heading into the next session of the General Assembly, and with good reason.

    State tax collections — the lifeblood of the budget and everything from road-paving to classroom sizes — could remain stagnant as the state continues to crawl out of the recession.

    Pent-up demands from groups and agencies cut over the last four years are already meeting with intense skepticism from lead budget-writers.

    And, as Bradner continues, preschool programming isn’t the only schoolhouse need lawmakers want to address:

    Education — that is, both K-12 education and higher education, two areas that saw their budgets cut as Indiana weathered the economic downturn, especially in 2009 and 2010 — is a place where current spending levels could be increased even without a preschool program.

    Times of Northwest Indiana editorial acknowledges the cost, but says it’s time for Indiana to fund a statewide pre-K program.

    “This could be a costly proposition,” writes Doug Ross, “so Indiana should begin with pilot projects to determine what offers the best bang for the buck for different groups of students. Look at rural, suburban and urban settings. Look at a host of socioeconomic factors. Look at what works well in other states, and why.”


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