House-passed preschool bill; Senate uncertain 

By Paige Clark

A bill to help young Hoosiers kick-start their education passed the House on Thursday but is expected to face opposition in the Senate. "I'm not one to handicap legislation, but let's just say it's not leading the pack" in the Senate, said House Speaker Brian Bosma. House Bill 1004 - authored Education Chairman Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis - creates a preschool voucher program. The Early Education Scholarship Pilot Program is aimed at families with lower incomes. To qualify for the program a child must be four, have a family income less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level, and live in one of the five counties selected to test the program. "Indiana is one of 10 states that is not on any state-funded pre-k program," Behning said, "We're ready to take to the next step and do what's right for the children in poverty and provide them the monetary needs that they don't have." The bill gained Democrat support even though it is "deserving of criticism" and has the "public uncomfortable," said Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City. "Let us not stand in the way of something our side of the aisle has talked about for years," Pelath said. "We need to do better for many of our kids, many of our low-income kids." Like many Democrats, Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, said he "struggled" to support the bill because of its ties with the voucher program. "What bothers me, is that (bill) gives you a lifetime privilege of being designated in (the low-income) category and having a voucher to use at a charter school or a traditional school, or one of our private institutions," Smith said. "We know that your status in life changes." Currently, Indiana has the nation's broadest private school voucher program. It offers tuition assistance to families, whose income is 185 percent of the federal poverty level or less, the same guidelines that would be used for the preschool program. After the bill passed 88-7, Bosma said he was "very pleased that the pre-kindergarten bill and the hard work we have put it on it have been successful." This is the second year the House passed legislation regarding a state-funded pre-school program after it failed to gain support in the Senate last year. "We have made progress, over the summer, with some of the legislators in the Senate, who have reservations about it, but not all," Bosma said. "It helps that the governor is on board, a great deal. I'm hopeful." Paige Clark is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.

Speaking of Preschool, Voucher Programs, Indiana General Assembly

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