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Pence promises big push for preschool bill

Gov. Mike Pence focused on education issues in his state of the state speech in January as well as throughout the legislative session.
Gov. Mike Pence focused on education issues in his state of the state speech in January as well as throughout the legislative session.
Scott Elliott

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence rolled out more details of his preschool funding plan today, suggesting the annual price tag when it is fully in place would be about $10.6 million.

Pence, recapping the just-completed first half of the legislative session with reporters, also praised a bill passed this week by the Senate that would void national Common Core standards Indiana adopted in 2010.

In all, Pence said nearly all of the education bills he advocated in support of preschool, charter schools, teacher choice and career and technical education passed the House or Senate. The one education bill from his agenda that did not advance was designed to create an innovation fund to support teachers with creative ideas. Pence’s spokeswoman said he expects that concept to be revived by being amended into another bill later this month.

As part of his preschool push, Pence said he delivered to the leadership of both parties in the House and Senate a 29-page report, which includes four pages of footnotes of studies of preschool effectiveness.

“With regard to across the board, some of the reports of the value of pre-K are ambiguous,” Pence said. “But with regard to disadvantaged kids, and we make this point in the report, numerous studies suggest that for disadvantaged kids quality pre-K education is of a great benefit to children who grow up in difficult circumstances.”

Pence said he is already talking to members of the Senate Education Committee, which he said would take the bill up next week.

That committee is key because last year a very similar preschool pilot program was dismantled when it could not garner enough support there. Committee members at the time expressed concerns about the cost and need for such a program. Committee Chairman Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said last month he has not detected any shift in attitudes about creating a new preschool pilot program in 2014.

Pence hopes to change their minds.

“For the sake of our kids and for the sake of education in Indiana and for the sake of our future in Indiana, I think it’s an idea who’s time has come,” Pence said. “I’m very encouraged about the progress we’re making and we’re working to continue carrying that forward.”

The report describes the pilot program as not incurring any costs until 2015. That’s important because it puts of the fiscal impact until the next budget which the legislature will craft in 2015. Sen. Luke Kenley, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee and serves on the education committee, has insisted that new spending not be added to the current budget.

The first year cost of about $650,000 will just cover start up in 2015. The first children would enroll in 2016.
On Common Core, Pence said he was pleased that the Senate had passed a bill insisting on self-created academic standards for Indiana.

Pence’s report estimates about 30,000 four-year-olds would be eligible for the program statewide based on the income limits. Because the pilot program will only be in five counties, the report estimates 1,500 children will participate.

“I’m grateful for the efforts in the General Assembly to support our call for standards in Indiana that are written by Hoosiers for Hoosiers and are of the highest magnitude,” he said.

Indiana is currently one of 46 states that have agreed to follow the same standards, which are aimed at assuring high school graduates are ready for college or careers.

In 2013, the legislature approved a bill to “pause” Indiana’s implementation of Common Core to allow time for a review of the standards and a new vote of the Indiana State Board of Education by July 1. State Superintendent Glenda Ritz said last month she expected the review process to result in recommendations for changes to at least some of the standards so they would be different than Common Core.

Rejecting Common Core, Pence said, was in line with his longstanding personal belief that education is as state and local function.

“We’ve hit pause button on Common Core,” Pence said. “The state board of education is charged under the statute with reviewing standards and producing Indiana standards. They’re working through that process. The General Assembly’s efforts to reinforce that through legislation is welcome.”

Pence’s legislative priorities

Most of Gov. Mike Pence’s education legislative priorities were passed by either the House or Senate in the first half of the session. One other priority, an innovation fund for teachers, did not advance but his spokeswoman said Pence would seek to have it amended into another bill later this month. Here are the bills that passed:

–Preschool pilot. One of Gov. Mike Pence’s signature legislative initiatives is to institute a preschool pilot program. House Bill 1004 would create a program for about 1,500 low income children to attend preschool in five counties. It passed the House 87-9.

–Charter school funding flexibility. Senate Bill 321 give charter school operators new flexibility to share funds across multiple schools. It passed the Senate 35-13.

–Teacher choice program. Senate Bill 264 makes highly rated teachers who take jobs at D or F rated public or charter schools eligible for extra pay if the legislature approves money for stipends in next year’s budget. It passed the Senate 34-14.

–Career and technical education study. House Bill 1064 creates a study of the return on investment of career and technical education programs in Indiana. It passed the House 94-0.

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