Senate Committee Slash House PreK Funding Bill, Nix Voucher Link

Mar 15, 2017

A Senate Committee slashed funding Wednesday from a House bill that sought to double the state’s preschool pilot program.

Senate lawmakers wasted little time amending House Bill 1004 to mirror their own version of legislation to expand state-funded preschool and offer additional funding to other early learning initiatives.

The amendment cuts the proposed increase for the On My Way Pre-K program from $20 million to $6 million during the next two years. It also creates a new fund to help families pay for virtual preschool classes.

The change goes against Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb’s call for a $10 million increase to the program.

Yet the reduction in funding didn’t go far enough for some.

Republican Sen. John Crane of Avon voted against any expansion, citing a lack of data on whether On My Way Pre-K was having a positive impact on children’s development.

“I have real concerns about expanding an unfinished pilot,” he said before casting the only nay in the 8-1 vote.

Lawmakers did add additional money to other preschool programs, including $4 million for grants to qualifying preschool providers in any county and $2 million for online courses for preschool-age children.

It also stripped out controversial language that linked the preschool pilot to the state’s private school voucher program.

Inclusion of the Choice Scholarship Program in the House Bill was the reason many House Democrats said they voted against it, even while supporting the expansion of state-funded preschool.

Rep. Robert Behning (R-Indianapolis), who authored the House bill and defended the Choice Scholarship Program, did not speak before the Senate Education and Workforce Committee voted to remove the provision.

The amended bill now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The current five county My Way Pre-K pilot program is used by 1,585 four-year olds out of an eligible 9,155 children. The cost is estimated at $8.3 million a year.

The House is expected to debate the Senate preschool’s funding bill later this month.

Contact WFYI education reporter Eric Weddle at eweddle@wfyi.org or call (317) 614-0470. Follow on Twitter: @ericweddle.