Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Groups Push for Public Preschool ; Vouchers May Be Part

Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Groups Push for Public Preschool ; Vouchers May Be Part

Article excerpt

INDIANAPOLIS - After years of being on opposite sides of education reform battles, teachers' unions and business groups could be working toward the same goal next year - publicly funded preschool. Although the scope of what's possible during the Indiana General Assembly's four-month 2013 legislative session is not clear, lawmakers and advocacy groups say it should be part of the state's next efforts to improve schools.

During a speech last week, Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, R- Indianapolis, referred to "the early childhood learning opportunities that we all believe are so important for the future" as something Indiana should pursue.

Afterward, Rep. Kreg Battles, D-Vincennes, said he hopes lawmakers can grab some "lowhanging fruit" such as offering state- funded early childhood education and vocational and technical education.

And the Indiana Chamber of Commerce - the business lobbying group that championed the state's 2011 laws, including a private school voucher program, expanded charter schools, tighter collective bargaining controls and more - is on board with the push.

"We've really accomplished a lot of the other things we wanted to get done," said Derek Redelman, the Chamber's vice president for education and workforce development policy.

"We wanted to make sure we're working on the whole spectrum of issues. This is a critically important one that we just haven't been all that engaged in, and this year we're going to change that."

One condition Bosma mentioned: He wants an early-childhood education program to look like the state's voucher law, which allows tax dollars to pay for students from low-income families to attend private schools.

Such a setup could be necessary. While public preschool programs exist to some degree in cities including Evansville, Indianapolis and Columbus, such programs are not legally required and are not offered presently at most public schools.

The debate will take place within the context of lawmakers efforts to write a new two-year budget worth between $28 billion and $29 billion for the state.

While the state is on track to close the fiscal year with a surplus that tops $500 million, the question is how that money will be spent - and there are a number of potential priorities that are competing to get their share of it. …

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