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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

By all means, let's study preschool voucher plan

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Friday, February 21, 2014 12:01 am
It is virtually certain that the Indiana General Assembly will pass some bills it shouldn’t this session. It’s the nature of the beast – legislators just can’t help legislating, even when no legislation is called for.But the Legislature is also demonstrating some welcome restraint this year. The controversial constitutional ban of gay marriage has been put off at least two years. Gov. Mike Pence’s proposed elimination of the business equipment tax might be headed for a summer study committee. Common Core academic standards, adopted in haste by a previous Legislature, might be yanked.

The latest proposal that might be studied instead of implemented is another favorite of the governor’s – a pilot program to provide vouchers for preschool-age children in families making less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level to attend school in a limited number of counties.

The main concern seems to be financial. Slumping tax collections and the fact that a new two-year budget won’t be taken up until next year have made some legislators concerned about spending money on a new program. Legislative analysts have said the plan would cost between $7.5 million and $30 million, and Pence’s education advisors have put the price tag at $10 million. If the program were fully expanded to cover all Hoosier families meeting the poverty guidelines, it would cost the state upward of $270 million a year.

And there are at least two other good reasons to hold back and study the proposal for a while.

For one, it is not wise to expand the voucher system, already the most ambitious in the nation, without studying the effects of what we already have in place.

Spending public money to send children to private schools is a good experiment, but it is still just that – an experiment.

For another, education advocates’ opinions aside, the research on preschool programs is not all positive. Members attending an early education summit in Fort Wayne this week seem inclined to study only the good research, that showing preschool is essential to later success for students. But there is also evidence showing that gains from preschool are either slight or impermanent. If the state is going to spend enormous amounts of money on a new program, it is vital that all of the research be considered.

The every-other-year short sessions have become much too packed with bills. Putting off some of them with studies is the best idea we’ve heard lately. Studying them in the summer before the long session is just right.

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