Advocates push for statewide expansion of pre-K program as top Republican lawmakers listen

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INDIANAPOLIS – Hundreds of advocates gathered Wednesday, pushing for a statewide expansion of Indiana’s pre-K program.

“We need to make sure each and every kid has access to pre-K,” Ana Stassiazinke said, an Indianapolis parent who attended the Statehouse rally.

Numerous civic and business leaders have spearheaded the movement, pushing for a $50 million dollar a year investment in the next state budget that would give more communities and schools access to the program.

“To all qualifying families in our state and that’s why I’m here today,” John Lechleiter said, retired CEO of Eli Lily & Co.

Indiana’s pilot program current invests $10 million dollar a year, proving free pre-K to qualified low-income four-year-olds in five counties including Allen, Jackson, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh.

“We have 27,000 unserved four-year-olds in the state right now,” Ann Murtlow said, CEO of United Way of Central Indiana. “And they are only four once, so once they turn five, the opportunity is lost. We could literally lose two generations of children.”

House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) and Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch were among the top Republicans who attended today’s rally.

“We pledge to expand to more schools and more students, more counties,” Bosma said. “And that’s precisely what we’re going to do this year.”

But as the governor outlined in his State of the State address last week, his approach would only double the state’s investment to $20 million a year, a far cry from what advocates are pushing.

Competing ideas among Republicans still differ on whether the program would expand to additional counties or simply invest more in the current five counties.

“I will continue to measure results across the state to build support, gain momentum and convince others that they should be all in for pre-K,” Crouch said.

Any potential compromise is still a ways away.

But leading Republicans have publicly committed to some sort of expansion, despite some hesitation within their caucuses and pressure to go even further.

“Legislators have a very hard job to do,” Murtlow said. “They always do. There are lots of competing priorities. I think there is significant momentum and support for this.”

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