- Associated Press - Friday, February 7, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is pushing forward with efforts to persuade lawmakers to funnel state money into preschool for children from low-income families.

Pence on Thursday made another pitch for a pilot program to help families earning less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level send their children to public or private preschool.

The legislation is a scaled-down version of the governor’s goal to give vouchers to roughly 41,000 youths eligible for early childhood education. Only five counties would be chosen for vouchers to send children to preschool under the bill.

The Indiana House approved the bill with broad bipartisan support in January, but whether the Senate will support the proposal and its multimillion-dollar price tag is unclear.

The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency estimates the project could cost anywhere between about $7.5 million and $30 million per year. An Indiana Office of Management and Budget report backed by Pence predicts the program could cost about $10.6 million for roughly 1,500 students. The cost will vary depending on which counties the state selects for the pilot.

The governor said he distributed the OMB report to Statehouse leaders this week.

What impact preschool programs actually have on childhood development also is debated. Studies show both that preschool can help children or have little to no effect.

Critics point to limited academic impact, most commonly shown in the federally funded Head Start program. The governor argues that targeting low-income families could have greater impact.

“Some of the results about the value of pre-K are ambiguous,” Pence said. “But with regard to disadvantaged kids, numerous studies support that quality pre-K education is of a great benefit to children who grow up in difficult circumstances.”

Pence said he expects the bill to be discussed at a Senate committee next week.

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