INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - House Republican leaders toured an Indianapolis
pre-school Wednesday, one day before the House Education Committee takes up
a proposal to give pre-school vouchers to low-income families in a small
number of cases.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and House Education Chairman
Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, have proposed paying $7 million a year for a
pilot program that would send roughly 1,000 children to pre-school.
Bosma and Behning said Wednesday they were considering doubling the size of
that pilot program if they can find private donors to chip in another $7
million a year. Finding a charitable match, they estimate, would enable the
state to pay for 2,000 students a year out of an eligible pool of roughly
40,000 3- and 4-year-olds.
“Our leadership team this summer was talking about what was next from our
perspective on education improvement and were looking at statistics like
we’re sixth from the bottom in the nation on the number of 3- and
4-year-olds that are in a pre-school program,” Bosma said.
Like the voucher program lawmakers approved in 2011, Bosma said the
pre-school program would be targeted at low-income families.
St. Mary’s executive director Connie Sherman briefed Bosma, Behning and a
group of other House Republicans and business leaders on a school that
serves mostly low-income families. Roughly 95 percent of St. Mary’s 235
children come from families who qualify for free and reduced lunch, and
roughly 88 percent of families have most of the school costs paid for
through private donations.
“All children deserve the highest quality early childhood education. No
child deserves to be some place where nothing is happening, or bad things
are happening,” Sherman said.
As she led the group through the Indianapolis school Wednesday afternoon,
she pointed out posters recounting field trips to places like Waterman’s
Family Farm in Indianapolis. Following that series of food-growing trips,
she pointed to a list of children’s answers which showed they better
understood that much of what they eat grows out of the ground.
The school relies on the Reggio Emilia teaching method, she said, and
focuses on teaching children through projects and field trips instead of
Early childhood education became a hot topic during the 2012 election and
has been prioritized by leaders in both chambers and Republican Gov. Mike
Pence. The St. Mary’s model, largely paid for through private donations, is
one Republican leaders are leaning toward. Pence has proposed giving a
dollar-for-dollar match to anyone who gives money to private “scholarship
granting organizations” or SGOs, which then pay for children to attend
Candi Lange, a board member and former Eli Lilly executive, told the group
that education and daycare opportunities are areas skilled workers often ask
about as they consider taking a job in Indiana.
Dean Brackenridge, chairman of the St. Mary’s board and a lawyer at Frost
Brown Todd LLC, noted that the business community has been pushing lawmakers
to take on early education, now that they have paid for full-day
The school started out in the basement of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in
Indianapolis, he said, but business leaders wanted to do more with the
school, so they built the school’s West Street location.
“Some businesspeople recognized we can do better than this, kids deserve a
better place to learn and came together in the mid-’80s to build this
facility for the students through private donations,” he said.
Republican leaders are looking to tap into that philanthropic vein this
session as they look for ways to pay for pre-school.