INDIANAPOLIS | The Republican-controlled Senate Education Committee gutted a top priority on Gov. Mike Pence's legislative agenda Wednesday, one week after the Republican governor personally asked the panel for their support.
House Bill 1004, which would have established a preschool voucher program for up to 1,000 low-income 4-year-olds in five to-be-determined counties, was rewritten by state Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, to create a commission tasked with studying how best to implement preschool in Indiana.
"This is an effort to put this suggested program into a form where it can actually be successful and do what it needs to do," Kenley said.
Kenley, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has said for months he was uncomfortable with Pence's idea to establish the preschool voucher program this year, and then wait until the state's next two-year budget is crafted in 2015 to fund it.
"If we can go through this and have the commission put this together in a way that would be appropriate, then we will have a tool that will say, 'OK, this is a good program and it's one that we could move forward with,' " Kenley said. "Then it will be on the table, with all the other budget items, for the budget next year."
The committee's eight Republicans and one Democrat in attendance unanimously voted to forward the preschool study commission proposal to the full Senate.
However, Pence is not giving up on his plan, according to spokeswoman Kara Brooks.
"Gov. Pence believes every child deserves to start school ready to learn, and he believes now is the time for a voluntary pre-k program to help Indiana’s low-income kids," Brooks said. "The governor looks forward to continuing to work with members of the General Assembly to advance this important initiative."
The Senate last year killed a similar preschool pilot program approved by the Republican-controlled House when the projected price tag neared $30 million.