Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Legislators Push Back On Request To Expand Pre-K Opportunities

A group of business and philanthropy leaders want the legislature to expand scholarships for low-income children to attend high quality pre-k.

A group of business and philanthropy leaders want the legislature to expand scholarships for low-income children to attend high quality pre-k. (photo credit: Rachel Morello/Indiana Public Broadcasting).

A pre-K advocacy group made up of Indiana businesses and philanthropic organizations asked a group of legislators on Wednesday to give more funding to pre-K scholarships for low-income families, and legislators pushed back.

The advocacy group, which includes representatives from United Way, Eli Lilly and PNC Bank, among others, testified before the interim study committee on fiscal policy. This is the committee that will have influence over what is included in the state budget when the General Assembly convenes in January.

Those who testified mentioned how Indiana businesses and philanthropic groups have invested millions of dollars into pre-K scholarships in Marion County, and want the legislature to step up and help fund this effort long term.

“We need a great education system to develop the workforce we need,” Connie Bond Stuart, PNC Regional President, told the committee.

Currently, Indiana is piloting a pre-K program, On My Way Pre-K, which serves a few hundred low-income kids in five counties. The speakers advocating for expansion asked the study committee on fiscal policy to consider expanding these scholarships to more places in the state.

Bond Stuart says local businesses like PNC Bank and other companies want to continue funding this effort, but feel they need more support from the state to make it sustainable.

Tim Brown, R- Crawfordsville and chair of the House Ways and Means committee, said that if philanthropic groups feel so strongly about the cause, they shouldn’t expect tax payers to foot most of the bill.

“That just rubs me the wrong way,” Brown says.

One reason Bond Stuart and others who testified say this is a worthwhile use of taxpayer money, is that the state would receive a return on this investment.

An economic impact report the group commissioned shows if Indiana helped fund more four-year-olds to attend high quality pre-K, they’d save many in other areas. For example, the report says special education needs would drop 12 percent and remediation and grade repetition would drop 18 percent. This would allow for that money to be reallocated to scholarships.

But Brown and other Republicans on the committee pushed the various speakers on the sustainability of such a program.

“It’s pretty easy to say to us ‘you need to do this,'” says Doug Eckerty, R-Yorktown. “The hard part is to sustain. That’s a message we’re going to have to deliver this year.”

Michael O’Connor of Eli Lilly says his group didn’t put a specific price tag on the program because they want it to slowly grow and expand throughout the state. And legislators pushing back on his proposal is because they are used to viewing financial requests as single line items, rather than long term goals.

“The elected officials have to sometimes step outside the normal boundaries of the normal government financial decision making and say what are were going to spend money on make a decision on what are we going to invest in,” O’Connor says.

Both gubernatorial candidates John Gregg and Eric Holcomb are advocating for expanded pre-K, and the General Assembly will have the chance to address it when the session begins in January.



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