Work underway to pay for more kids’ preschool classes

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INDIANAPOLIS — The debate over preschool is heating up and soon, state leaders could offer more parents a way to pay for school before Kindergarten.

On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee heard testimony on the latest version of the Pre-Kindergarten bill.

It included Gov. Mike Pence, who testified in a committee meeting for the first time by speaking out in support of the bill.

“We owe it to all our children, especially the least of these, to see to it that they’re able to start school ready to succeed,” Pence said.

The bill, which has failed in different forms in years past, would start a pilot program that would give vouchers to about 1,000 high poverty kids, considered the most at-risk to be behind in school.

“Because they start school behind, many of them never catch up and are much more likely to be incarcerated,” Rep. Bob Behning, who sponsored the bill, said.

Fox 59 got a look inside a classroom that shows direct evidence of the growing popularity of preschool programs.

The Avondale Meadows YMCA just opened its Early Learning Center in November and its already half-filled with kids.

“We’re getting a lot more calls from parents … that want to come by for a tour (or) parents that are hearing it from our current parents,” Director Ikeia Prince said.

Avondale Meadows lies on the Northeast side, in one of the most challenged areas of Indianapolis. Its YMCA was built as part of a revitalization program and while the class is diverse, it’s the kind of target area that Behning hopes will benefit from the bill.

“Children of poverty are four times more likely to drop out of school, because they start behind,” Behning said.

The committee is likely to vote on the bill next week. It will then need to pass the full Senate. If passed, the pilot program would begin in 2015.