Pence pushes for preschool voucher program

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indiana is one of just nine states that make no investment in early childhood education.

Gov. Mike Pence wants to change that and it’s the reason why he made a public appeal on Wednesday.

Pence is losing the legislative battle to fund a pilot program of vouchers for disadvantaged preschool students. He is at odds with fellow Republicans in the state Senate.

He visited a preschool classroom at the Shepherd Community Center to highlight the importance of early childhood education.

It’s a school where 97 percent of the elementary school students are on vouchers and where the director says kids without preschool struggle in kindergarten.

“They do not know how to read,” said Sonna Dumas, “and also the language barrier is a large part of our challenge here in this neighborhood.”

The governor was joined by Jenny Izaguirre, a mother who would like to take advantage of the vouchers Pence hopes to create. Otherwise, she said, preschool is out of reach for her family.

“It’s impossible because we can’t pay,” she said. “We can’t afford it, you know.”

But the governor’s fellow Republicans in the state Senate eliminated the pilot program calling for a thousand preschool vouchers, instead of proposing a summer study of the issue.

“I do believe that to act and to study,” Pence said, “is the right step this year.”

Key lawmakers worry both about the cost down the road and the idea of picking up expenses that have always been paid by families.

“And we need to get people comfortable with the value of this,” said Sen. Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville.) “That’s why we need the study.”

The governor has proposed making vouchers available to children in families up to 185 percent of the poverty level. If it gets beyond the pilot stage, that would make half the kids in the state eligible.

That’s a cost concern for lawmakers.

The governor has just about two weeks to win them over before the end of the 2014 General Assembly.


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