The Senate Education Committee heard HB 1004 (House Education Chairman Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis) today but did not yet vote it out of committee. The bill would create an early education pilot program providing up to $6,800 per child. This amount is significantly greater than regular K-12 vouchers. ISTA testified in support of early education due to extensive research showing the great impact of early learning development on future student achievement. However, some problematic language in the bill was noted and brought to attention. The most concerning section of the bill included language that would allow a child who receives a choice scholarship for an early childhood education program to become eligible automatically for K-12 vouchers. This would create an entirely new pool of voucher students and would further expand Indiana’s voucher program. The early childhood program could become a feeder system for K-12 vouchers and subsidize private schools.
Under current law, a student must first attend two semesters at a public school before becoming eligible for a voucher. By removing this requirement, these students would never be included in the ADM count for the school funding formula, and so public dollars would be diverted away from public schools. Considering the fact that Indiana has yet to fully fund Kindergarten, in addition to the $300 million in cuts recurring over the past few years, it is questionable whether this is the wisest move given the fiscal situation for public education. The House budget proposes an increase of 2% in education funding, but a significant portion of this amount would be eaten up by the new voucher program. Alongside another House bill, HB 1003, siblings of current voucher students would be eligible to receive vouchers without first attending a public school for two semesters. So although the number of children in the early education pilot program would be capped at a certain amount, the doors are still open for this number to gradually expand further and further over time.
The committee intends to vote on the bill at next week’s meeting, after which it will be recommitted to the Senate Appropriations Committee due to the fiscal impact. Approximately $14 million would be spent on the pilot program over two years.