Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Will Lawmakers Allow 13 More Counties Into the Pre-K Pilot?

    The first phase of the On My Way Pre-K program has only just begun, and lawmakers are already tossing around the idea of expanding the initiative.

    A preschool student in Columbus works in her classroom. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

    A preschool student in Columbus works in her classroom. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

    Legislators in the state senate and house will each consider a bill this session that proposes widening the field of participating counties.

    You may remember that after Gov. Mike Pence signed the program into law, interested communities submitted applications to the Family and Social Services Administration. The agency chose 18 finalists in June, later whittling the field down to the five current participants – Allen, Jackson, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh counties.

    Among those not selected: Bartholomew, Delaware, Elkhart, Grant, Howard, Kosciusko, Lawrence, Madison, Noble, St. Joseph, Tippecanoe, Vigo and Wayne counties.

    Both Senate Bill 344 and House Bill 1129 recommend extending the pilot to include those 13 counties.

    Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, represents a district that is already part of the program, but says she wants to share the enthusiasm she sees in her district statewide.

    “With some additional dollars and some additional counties involved, we might be able to spread that excitement for early childhood education,” Rogers says.

    Rogers says she would ideally like to see the expansion as soon as possible, and thinks this is the best time to make it happen since it is a budget year for the General Assembly. Despite the fact that the pilot only just started earlier this month – meaning any hard evidence indicating success doesn’t exist yet – the senator says she has always thought there was enough data to support pre-k in Indiana.

    “The more information I think we have, I think there’ll be a better basis in terms of being able to put some more state dollars to pre-k,” Rogers says.

    Rogers is working together with Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie, who sponsors the same bill on the House side. She represents a part of Delaware County, one of the areas that would be included if the legislation passed. As a member of the House Education Committee, Errington says advancing early childhood education is a top priority for her colleagues.

    “This bill is a nonpartisan issue,” Errington said in a statement released this week. “I believe both parties recognize the difference early learning can make in a child’s life.”

    Rogers says she also believes she’ll be able to find some support from across the aisle in the Senate.

    Both legislative proposals suggest funding the extension through the state lottery administrative trust fund. The majority of lottery revenue currently goes to the state’s general fund, which is then earmarked for specific projects such as the Build Indiana Fund and teachers’ retirement fund.

    Getting the money to support pre-k has already been an issue in existing pilot communities. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

    Getting the money to support pre-k has already been an issue in existing pilot communities. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

    Getting that money will likely be the issue with this proposition. Legislators would have to work language into the context of the budget they’re crafting to transfer the required $10 million away from Build Indiana into the pilot’s pot.

    But that’s not all. When StateImpact spoke to Dennis Rittenmeyer – the point person for pilot efforts in Sen. Rogers’ very own Lake County – late last year, he expressed concern over expanding the program, because that would mean going back to area businesses for more money, when he already promised it was a one-time thing.

    Rogers says she shares this concern, and will focus on trying to solve it this session.
    “This might be an opportunity for us to make a case of getting some additional state dollars to this effort,” Rogers says. “I think that that can be done through some personal conversations with the governor’s office or with the budget committee to make certain that those dollars will be there, so that we don’t have to go back and ask for those dollars that we got this time.”

    Legislators aren’t the only people who have alluded to stretching the program: Gov. Pence briefly mentioned it his State of the State address Tuesday. Pence called for two years of full funding – the law that originally established the initiative only approved it for one year.

    The FSSA awarded 465 grants to families to participate in the current portion of the program, out of a pool of 1200 eligible applicants. Among the four counties currently operating pilot efforts – Allen, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh – 110 eligible providers signed up to take part.

    The full launch – including Jackson County – begins this summer.


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