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The Journal Gazette

  • FILE: Teacher Andrea Jones, center, with students from the Whitney Young Early Childhood Center in Fort Wayne.

Friday, April 21, 2017 7:07 am

On My Way Pre-K bill heads to governor

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS -- The House and Senate approved the final structure of a prekindergarten expansion Friday -- and the legislation now goes to the governor.

The House passed the bill 81-16 and the Senate vote was 31-19.

"We took the bill and made a lot of concessions," said Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis. "We boiled it down to something we can be very proud of."

The current program serves 1,500 low-income children in five pilot counties -- Allen, Vanderburgh, Marion, Lake and Jackson.

House Bill 1004 allows the Family and Social Services Administration to expand to an additional 15 counties.

Money for the program is in the budget and is set at $22 million annually -- up from $10 million.

The original counties can change the income eligibility from 127 percent of federal poverty to 185 percent of federal poverty if there is capacity, but the children with the most need come first.

The bill also establishes a tablet-based early learning program for children in rural counties. It would give priority to the 10 counties in the state with no high-quality prekindergarten options.

The only thing people spoke against was language in the bill tying the prekindergarten grants to the state's voucher program.

It says that a child who attends a Pre-K program can automatically use a voucher to enter kindergarten at the same school rather than having to go to public school first. This is another pathway for some children to avoid attending public school, but Republican lawmakers said it would only affect a handful of kids.

Still, Democrats in both chambers cited the language as the reason to oppose the bill despite pushing for an expansion of the program.

"Here we go again. We are going to expand vouchers," said Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson. "We're going to allow more of the voucherization of the education system in Indiana."

Others called the language a "poison pill."

nkelly@jg.net