Brinegar Asks Lawmakers to go Further With Pre-K

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A measure to expand state-funded pre-kindergarten into more counties has been approved by the Indiana House. Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar supports House Bill 1004, but is urging legislators to go "as far as they can afford to, as fast as they can" with a bill to at least double Indiana's current investment level. Brinegar says $10 million in additional funding for pre-k could be requested through the biennial budget process, but he says some coalition partners would like to see up to $50 million pumped into an even wider expansion. During an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Brinegar said there are challenges facing final approval.

He said "first and foremost, is the funding. Is there going to be enough money available in this very tight budget year. Two, there are some legislators who are not believers in the importance of good, quality education in a pre-kindergarten experience." Brinegar also added that some religiously-centered day cares that don’t have an education component but currently receive federal dollars are fighting pre-k expansion, so they don't lose students to the publicly-funded centers that do offer the educational component.

The On My Way Pre-K pilot program was launched in 2014 and serves some 2,300 students in five counties. Representative Holli Sullivan (R-78) is a co-author of the bill and says "research shows that low-income children will often arrive at kindergarten academically behind their classmates by up to 18 months. Offering this high-quality program to those students gives them a strong foundation to help close the achievement gap they may face during their educational career."

Representative Vernon Smith (D-14) is the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee. He is an Indiana University Northwest professor who has been a proponent of state-funded pre-kindergarten and he spoke out Tuesday at the Statehouse against a portion of the legislation. "Republicans have brought a Trojan Horse into the House chamber that looks like an expansion of Pre-K, but hidden inside is an expansion of vouchers to further the GOP's ideological goal of taking state tax money and allowing it to be given to private schools at the expense of public schools," Smith said. "Republicans argue that Indiana cannot afford statewide expansion to allow every family with a four-year-old to benefit from early education in public schools, yet, according to the fiscal note attached to the bill, the potential added cost of this voucher expansion was considerably greater than the cost of the HB 1004 provisions that directly impact Pre-K."

Another pre-k expansion proposal, Senate Bill 276, is working its way through the other chamber of the Statehouse. HB 1004 now heads to the Senate.

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