Indiana News

Senate Democrats Call for Statewide Preschool

9/12/2013

Senate Democrats will call for universal preschool in next year's legislative session.

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House Republicans led a push for preschool funding in this year's session, but the new state budget includes two-million dollars a year in grants to help more students attend preschool. That's less than a third of what the GOP proposed spending on a five-county pilot program.

Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) wants to go beyond both those plans and offer preschool statewide, through local school districts. He says studies show students who attend preschool not only do better in the early grades, but graduate at higher rates and land higher-paying jobs.

Lanane says Indiana is one of just 10 states which don't offer some form of state-funded preschool.

Democrats aren't proposing a way to pay for the program yet. Lanane says since legislators won't write a new budget till 2015, the goal is to lay the groundwork in next year's session by debating the issue, in hopes of marshaling support for it in the new budget.

Lanane says with the state continuing to enjoy $2 billion surpluses, one option is to simply tap those funds. He argues that would be a more profitable investment than just keeping the money in reserve. But Lanane says Democrats are open to other ideas.

There hasn't been a legislative cost estimate for preschool, but Lanane expects it would be less than the $190 million the state spends on full-day kindergarten.

Senate Education Chairman Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn) says he's looking forward to seeing the impact of the current budget's investment in preschool. The budget calls on the state to track the performance of students who receive the new grants. In a statement, Kruse says preschool is an "ongoing conversation" and says he welcomes Lanane's input.

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