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Pence Visits Gary to Talk Pre-K Vouchers

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By Hilary Powell

February 11th — They have little hands and feet, and they can’t vote, but they currently hold a large portion of legislators’ attention in the Indiana general assembly. The children of ELKA Child Education Center in Gary recently welcomed a special class guest when Indiana Governor Mike Pence visited. The governor says Indiana is one of only nine states that does not provide some form of state aid for preschool education, or “pre-k.”

“What is heartbreaking to me is the thought that many children will enter kindergarten without having a basic background in some fundamental learning, and they struggle from the outset.” said Governor Pence said. “I’m very encouraged that we’ve passed pre-K scholarship legislation in the House of Representatives. I was talking with members of the Indiana Senate today and we’re hopeful that Indiana will take a next step toward providing a voluntary pre-K scholarship voucher for Indiana’s neediest kids.”

House Bill 1004 expands early childhood education by providing vouchers for low-income families to pay for pre-school in a pilot program. The governor says thousands of Hoosier children under age five will benefit if the Senate chooses to take positive action on the bill, which could happen as early as this week.

Educator Tavia Black says although final say comes from adults, childrens’ futures are at the core of the debate.

“I just feel you need to do what you can to help the parents and serve the community.” said Black. “And if parents need assistance, especially financial assistance to give their children a start, I think it’s what we definitely need to do. I do not ‘think’, I know we do. It’s not about us as adults, we need to give them a chance.”

A 2014 report from State’s Office of Management and Budget hopes to sway pre-school skeptics. It cites several studies that show pre-K programs give individuals higher earning potential over their lifetime and keep them away from a life of crime. The pilot program is set to cost $10.6 million. The bill is currently referred to the Senate’s Education and Career Development Committee…of which Gary Senator Earline Rogers is a ranking member. Rogers says she wants the bill approved, “So that Indiana can join the rest of the nation in realizing that any effort to reform education has to start at an earlier age.”

Gary Representative Vernon Smith voted to move the bill to the Indiana Senate. In a town hall meeting this weekend, he likened support for the bill as a way to advance public education.

“We ought to be trying to protect public education, that’s what built this nation, and we’re destroying it little by little.” said Smith. “So once again, all the money is going from public education into private education.”

The ELKA Center serves 80 children in its pre-k program, and Black says a ‘yes’ on current legislation will help her support even more of the state’s littlest ones.

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