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A preschooler in the Reggio program at IPS School 60.

A preschooler in the Reggio program at IPS School 60.

Scott Elliott

Preschool bill easily passes House

The Indiana House today strongly supported a bill that would represent the state’s first foray into direct aid for preschool, passing it 87-9.

House Bill 1004 is one of top legislative priorities of Republican Gov. Mike Pence and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis. The idea of state aid for preschool also has long running support from Democrats, who voted overwhelmingly for the bill.

Even so, the bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate.

Indiana is one of just 10 states that provides no direct state aid to children attending preschool. Last year a similar bill, which also aimed to pay for preschool for about 1,000 low income four-year-olds in five counties, also passed the House with a huge 93-6 majority. But that bill was bogged down in the Senate Education Committee, which had tepid support for the idea, and ultimately the program was dismantled in favor of a grant program.

Signals from the Senate so far have not suggested any new enthusiasm for state-funded preschool. Education Committee Chairman Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said his committee continues to be skeptical of the program. And Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, has questioned whether the state can afford to begin spending on preschool and suggested the debate should wait until the 2015 biennial budget-making session. Kenley sits on the education committee and chairs the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

A fiscal impact statement for the bill from legislative staff estimated it could enroll up to 4,600 children and cost as much as $24.7 million. But Bosma has said he sees the program starting smaller and costing less, more in line with the 2013 estimate of $7 million.

The bill next will be heard in the Senate Education Committee in the second half of the legislative session, probably in early February.