There’s bipartisan support for making Indiana the 42nd state in the nation to fund pre-kindergarten. Wouldn’t it be nice if legislators produced a bipartisan bill to make it happen? Apparently that’s too much to ask, at least for now.
House Bill 1004, approved last week by the House Education Committee, creates a pilot program to help fund preschool for 4-year-olds from low-income families. But it also opens another gateway to Indiana’s K-12 private school voucher program, already one of the most expansive in the country.
Under the legislation, sponsored by Rep. Bob Behning of Indianapolis, children who take part in the state preschool program would qualify for vouchers once they hit kindergarten. Until now, vouchers have gone to students who transfer from public schools or who live in an attendance area for a public school that gets an F on the state grading system.
As the Indiana State Teachers Association said, there are questions about the pre-K proposal, but “one thing is clear in the bill and that is it will become a ‘feeder system’ for the K-12 private school voucher schools.”
Democrats won’t want to vote for such a bill – and for the Republican majority, that’s probably the point. Tying a voucher program expansion to a potentially popular pre-K measure is just old-fashioned nasty politics.
Of course, this is standard practice in Congress as well as state legislatures. You add something objectionable to a bill that has to pass to put your political opponents in a tough spot. Some call it a poison pill. A legislator once told me it was “the shit sandwich.”
Politics aside, HB 1004 is pretty modest. It creates a pilot pre-K program that won’t start until 2015, and then in no more than five countries. At that rate it’s likely to be a long time before poor parents around the state get help paying for preschool. An Indianapolis Star editorial calls the bill “a timid step at a time when Indiana needs to be bold.”
It’s early in the session, however, and a lot could change before the bill becomes law – if it does. Here’s a chance for Gov. Mike Pence, who now supports state funding for preschool, to exert some leadership and get the politics out of the bill.