It’s good news that Indiana House Republicans mentioned early-childhood education when they unveiled their 2013 legislative priorities this week – but not such good news that they provided absolutely no details about what they plan to do about it.
In fact, when Speaker Brian Bosma was questioned about how the caucus would pay to promote more access to preschool, he apparently segued into an argument for expanding Indiana’s school voucher program, which is already one of the most generous in the country.
“He recounted a meeting with a group of low-income families who had ‘very tearfully’ explained how they had scraped together funds to pay for private school only to find that blocked them from getting a voucher,” the Indianapolis Star reported. “‘Unless they send their child back to the classroom that failed them in the first place, they have no opportunity to access what other Hoosiers are accessing through our voucher program,’ Bosma said. ‘Perhaps it’s time to take a look at that.’”
So instead of talking seriously about expanding access to high-quality early-childhood education, we’re looking at turning taxpayer funding for private and religious education into an entitlement?
OK, let’s cut the speaker some slack and assume he wants to do … something. After all, Indiana’s lack of support for young children is close to becoming an embarrassment. At the Star, editorialists and columnists have been calling for action. Maybe Bosma has decided it’s time to lead from behind.
The news release explaining the House Republicans’ agenda acknowledges that 61 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds in Indiana are not enrolled in preschool, a higher percentage than all but six other states. Indiana is one of just 11 states that provide no state funding for pre-kindergarten programs.
“Now that we have completed our goal of making kindergarten available to every Hoosier family, it’s time to look at additional opportunities, especially for low income families,” Bosma says in the release.
That wording isn’t especially encouraging, however. Recall that it took six years for the state to fund full-day kindergarten after Gov. Mitch Daniels declared it a priority in 2006.
Rep. Scott Pelath, the assistant Democratic leader in the House, told the Star that people should pay attention to what the Republicans do, not what they say. He pointed out that they never campaigned on right-to-work legislation, but it was their top legislative priority in 2012. Neither, one could add, did Republicans campaign on instituting school vouchers or shutting down collective bargaining for teachers; yet those became priorities for the 2011 session.
Republicans have a 60-40 advantage in the House and an even bigger edge in the Senate. They’re likely to expand the margin in next month’s elections. They can do whatever they want. All the more reason to tell us now – really – what that will be.