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January 17, 2014

Ind. House OKs early childhood ed pilot program

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a pilot program Thursday that would pay for low-income children to attend preschool.

Families earning less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level would get state aid to send their children to preschool. The program was first proposed by House Republicans last year and is loosely connected to Gov. Mike Pence's call for an early childhood education plan.

The pilot plan would pick five counties and offer vouchers to families to send children to public or private preschools. The measure carries a roughly $25 million price tag, and Senate budget leaders have expressed concern it could open the state to increased spending at a time of decreasing tax collections.

"This bill, although a pilot, has an opportunity to make a significant statement to the state as proof that we're ready to take the next step in doing what's right for the children," said House Education Chairman Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis. The measure mirrors a proposal pushed last year by Behning and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis.

The measure won bipartisan support Thursday, easily passing the House on an 87-9 vote.

"Let's not have what's wrong with the measure get in the way of what's right," said House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City. "The fact of the matter is that, from our side of the aisle, there's a little continuing concern about the doubling down on the voucher methodology."

Pence praised Thursday's vote, even though the House plan falls well of the roughly 40,000 children the governor hoped would qualify for the plan. As he has with most of his agenda, the governor has laid out broad ideas in public and later added his name to measures crafted by House or Senate leaders, as opposed to submitting his own items for approval.

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