Luke Kenley, the powerful chairman of the Indiana Senate’s appropriations committee, said Wednesday he doubts potentially costly proposals from Gov. Mike Pence to offer preschool tuition vouchers to low income families, boost charter schools or aid teacher innovation can be enacted before 2015.
“I don’t see us doing anything in 2014 on these issues,” Kenley, R-Indianapolis, said in an interview. “If you want to have a fair sense of fiscal discipline and evaluate any program, it has to be done in the context of the rest of the budget.”
Kenley said all education priorities — not just Pence’s proposals but also annual costs like aid to school districts — should be weighed against each other at the same time and compared to the available revenue. Then choices could be made about what matters most when everything could be judged equally.
The time for that is the next budget year, 2015, unless Pence wants to also propose a way to fund his education plans, Kenley said.
“We can’t start down the path of funding special projects unless someone wants to come up with a tax or a special revenue source,” he said.
At a speech in Corydon Tuesday, Pence called for preschool vouchers for 40,000 low income children, a salary stipend for teachers who change jobs to work in troubled schools, grants for teacher innovation and state-paid reimbursement to teachers for classroom supplies.
Pence does not want to wait, especially on prekindergarten programs, according to a spokeswoman.
“Governor Pence and his staff are continuing the important conversation that started in the last legislative session regarding the design of a pre-K strategy that will serve the most vulnerable Hoosier students, and we want to get those programs started as soon as possible,” Pence spokeswoman Kara Brooks said. “Authorizing pre-K in the coming session will allow enough lead time for programs to be in place for the 2015-2016 school year.”
In Tuesday’s speech, Pence also endorsed an expansion of drop out recovery charter schools, a controversial issue that Kenley spearheaded an effort to address earlier this year. Charter schools for dropouts, often adults, run by Goodwill Industries and Christel House Academies have earned accolades for helping students finish school and get jobs but plans for a big expansion of the schools around the state worried lawmakers.
As an interim solution, Kenley and other lawmakers engineered a set aside of cash for the existing schools but also capped their growth until there was further study of how to pay for them.
With an expansion of dropout recovery schools added to his other education proposals, potential new costs to the state for Pence’s total education agenda could easily exceed $100 million if his ideas were all enacted. Because Indiana’s biennial budget is forged by the legislature in odd-numbered years, new programs created in even-year “short” sessions may have to wait a year for implementation until funding is allocated in the next budget.
The Senate has been a stumbling block over the fiscal impact of education bills in the past, notably earlier this year when a preschool pilot program, backed by the House, was redesigned and scaled down. Indiana’s most recent tax collections also came in under projections, prompting Pence to order the state plane sold and instituting cuts in higher education and raising questions about the viability of new spending programs.
Pence acknowledged Tuesday that his education agenda was a starting point for talks with the legislature, but emphasized the state was fiscally strong overall and he believed creative solutions could be found to put programs in place in 2014. He also told reporters afterwards he had personally briefed Kenley on his education plans.
Kenley said when he and the governor spoke, they agreed more often about education than not.
“We had a good conversation,” he said. “I agreed with him these are all worthwhile things to take a look at. I think he’s trying to think real hard about what the next steps are in education.”