What to know:
Getting the conservative Senate Education Committee to pass a bill to establish state aid for preschool was always going to be an uphill battle. Last year, a similar preschool pilot program easily passed the Indiana House only to be dropped in the Senate Education Committee in favor of a small grant program. This year, House Bill 1004 again sailed through the House. But from the moment Pence proposed the program, senators expressed skepticism about his plan.
Even so, the dismantling of the preschool pilot program would be a stinging defeat for Pence. The governor made establishing a framework to provide direct state aid for preschool one of his top two legislative priorities, along with elimination of a business personal property tax. He made significant concessions — ultimately crafting the bill to simply created a design for the program but leaving decisions about whether and how to fund it to the 2015 legislature. That's because Kenley, who chairs the Senate's budget-making Appropriations Committee, opposed reopening the biennial budget in 2014. The bill also would create a smaller program than Pence originally described, again in response to concerns from Kenley and others about costs.
Pence even delivered a heartfelt, personal appeal to senators. Making his first appearance to testify on behalf of a bill since he was elected governor in 2012, Pence urged the Senate Education Committee to allow a vote on House Bill 1004 by the entire Senate. But Kenley's comments to Tully suggest the full Senate will not get that chance.
Why it’s Important:
The failure of the preschool pilot program would be political blow to Pence, reinforcing doubts about his ability to influence legislation. Pence launched an aggressive campaign in support of a half dozen education bills this year, after complaints during his first year in office that Pence and his lieutenants were less active in support of legislation, especially education bills, than his predecessor, Mitch Daniels. The preschool bill appears poised to fail despite widespread support from Indiana's education community.
For proponents of early childhood education, the failure to establish a preschool pilot program in 2014 would be the latest in a series of disappointments and leave Indiana among just nine states that provide no direct state aid for preschool to low income families.