Early Childhood Education Gets a Push in the Right Direction


Great news: It seems like 2017 will be the year that everyone finally jumps on the train to expand the pre-K pilot program in Indiana. In just the past two weeks, we have had two major announcements from Governor Mike Pence and Superintendent Glenda Ritz on different proposals to expand the pre-K pilot program.

As background, in 2014 Pence testified in front of the Senate Education and Career Development Committee to pursue Indiana’s first pre-kindergarten program for disadvantaged four-year-olds. That session generated legislation to create a five-county pilot program (selected counties were Lake, Marion, Jackson, Vanderburgh and Allen) for 2,300 grants of up to $6,600 for low-income four-year-old students. This voluntary, voucher-based program could place students in public schools, private schools, licensed child care centers, licensed homes or registered ministries – as long as they were a Level 3 or Level 4 on Paths to Quality, which is Indiana’s child care quality rating and improvement system.

This pilot program was awarded $10 million that year and was given an additional $10 million the subsequent year. The response was overwhelming – over 500 low-income applicants in Marion County alone were turned away. In Valparaiso, 600 applications were submitted for only 285 spots. It is important to note that 41 other states have publicly funded preschool programs. Indiana is unique as businesses around the state have stepped up to the plate and have invested heavily to push to expand the pilot program. The business community realizes that having a quality start to school will ultimately lead to a stronger workforce and better communities.

The day of the Indiana Chamber’s spring board of directors meeting earlier this month, Governor Pence announced that he had sent a letter to Secretary Sylvia Burwell of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) expressing interest in expanding pre-K education for disadvantaged children. HHS oversees preschool development grants authorized under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). He has also stated publicly his desire to request additional state dollars in the next budget. It should be noted that Pence had the opportunity to apply for $80 million in federal grant dollars in 2014 and decided not to pursue the application at the very last minute, citing concerns regarding federal intrusion. The Governor now states that the pilot is producing great results and the time is right for expansion.

Similarly, Ritz announced a proposed expansion of pre-kindergarten programs in announcing her Imagine 2020 legislative plan the following week. Ritz’s pre-kindergarten announcement included high-quality, state-funded, universal access to pre-K to the tune of $150 million per year. With this price tag, Ritz stated that if the political will is there, the funds will follow. Her plan utilizes reversions from state agencies already made to the general fund and leveraging federal dollars.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg joined Ritz this week to discuss more details about the pre-K plan. It was explained that the $150 million per year would be available for 289 public school districts with pre-K programs. The program would be voluntary for students, but would be open to all Hoosier four-year-olds, regardless of family income.

While we are thrilled that leaders of both parties are supporting expansion of pre-K programs in Indiana, per usual, the devil is in the details. Expansion can take shape in many forms: universal coverage for all four-year-olds regardless of income levels, increasing the number of counties in the pilot, expanding access to three-year-olds or changing the poverty-level income requirement. These details all are yet to be determined in each proposed plan.

The Indiana Chamber has partnered with many stakeholders to promote expansion of the pre-K pilot and has been meeting frequently to determine our approach to the 2017 legislative session, our messaging and to work collaboratively with community partners and Chamber members to promote a well-funded, high-quality expansion. We will be relying on employers across the state to help us beat the drum about the importance of a great early start to school, which will help lead to lifelong success.

Solving or Adding to the Health Care Headache?

Will President Obama’s goal of signing landmark health care reform legislation by October be realized? Cam Carter, the Indiana Chamber’s federal relations authority, says no. Mike Ripley, health care policy expert, offers that if it closely resembles what is currently being debated in Washington, he hopes not.

Carter and Ripley shared their perspective and answered questions from listeners during today’s Policy Issue Conference Call. If you want all the inside scoop and you’re a Chamber member, you need to listen (next up is K-12 education — charter schools, virtual charters and state scholarship tax credits, among other topics, on August 21). From today’s event, a few tidbits:

  • Millions and billions in Washington have given way to trillions. Conservatives are looking to bring "down" the cost of a reform package to the $1 trillion level. Early estimates on just pieces of the package are at $1.6 trillion and up
  • Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf popped a few balloons yesterday with his comment: "In the legislation that has been reported, we do not see the sort of fundamental changes that would be necessary to reduce the trajectory of federal health spending by a signficant amount and, on the contrary, the legislation significantly expands the federal responsibility for health care costs." Maybe that will give pause to some
  • Massachusetts, the state model of universal coverage with its program instituted by then Gov. Mitt Romney, has not worked out as intended with higher costs and lower reimbursement rates for providers causing friction
  • No fewer than five Congressional committees are currently weighing in with near total attention on this issue. Nevertheless, the deadlines of trying to get a bill through committees and floor debate before the August recess appear unreachable
  • The public plan option threatens the insurance industry as we know it

A Chamber member may have summed it up best when he questioned whether the proposals being bandied about are going to do anything to solve the problems with the health care system. That, of course, should be the bottom line litmus test of any plan.

The details and the dynamics are changing on an everyday basis. Stay tuned for more.

HELP and Health Care on Steroids

The health care debate is underway in Washington. Most experts expect some type of reform to emerge. With that in mind, all need to hope that what is put in place (with this most difficult of issues) is a step in the right direction.

I can’t help but be a little concerned when seeing a comment from Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) that HELP (see below) committee staffers are putting together a plan that is "Massachusetts on steroids." He refers to the 2006 state legislation that requires universal coverage, includes heavy regulation and has proven more costly than anticipated. We’re sure the rhetoric will continue from both sides, but that is certainly not a good sign early in the process.

Now for that HELP, as in Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee. The acronym doesn’t inspire confidence. Help is needed, but will HELP provide the answers?

Ohio Task Force: State Should Mandate Health Coverage

From the "What Could Possibly Go Wrong?" File:

An Ohio task force has recommended that the state provide universal health insurance. The group, which doesn’t say how to pay for the proposal, wants mandates on all residents to buy insurance and insurers to accept all who apply. Employers, naturally, would also face certain requirements.

Perhaps our eastern neighbor is hoping to mimic the resounding success of San FranciscoMassachusetts and Canada.