INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana's first state-supported preschool program won't be starting up this coming school year, and when that will happen remains uncertain.
Republican Gov. Mike Pence had touted the plan to pay for low-income children to attend early childhood programs as a top accomplishment of the 2014 legislative session. The bill approved by legislators called for the state Family and Social Services Administration to pick five counties around the state for a pilot program.
FSSA spokeswoman Marni Lemons said the agency faces several steps required by the Legislature, such as setting up a way to track the academic progress of the children from preschool to third grade and gaining approvals from the State Board of Education and State Budget Committee.
"This is not going to be ready to roll out for fall of 2014," Lemons said. "There are a lot of requirements that the law listed."
She said the agency would soon announce the process for picking the five counties for the pilot program.
Under the plan, the families of between 1,000 to 4,000 low-income children will receive vouchers to attend public or private preschools. Money for the program is to come from $10 million in FSAA budget cuts and $5 million in private donations.
Pence had sought approval of a preschool program for up to 40,000 low-income children, but Senate Republicans concerned about the cost forced a more modest plan.
Pence spokeswoman Christy Denault said the preschool program hasn't been delayed and that FSAA is working to meet the requirements legislators included in the law.
"The administration is committed to creating a program that will ensure students have access to quality programs that will prepare them well for kindergarten," she told The Times of Munster.
State Rep. Dan Forestal, D-Indianapolis, a co-sponsor of the measure, said he was disappointed that Pence promoted the benefits of the program during a bill-signing ceremony at an Indianapolis preschool in March only to then not follow through.
"This is not a delay without ramifications. It will negatively affect Hoosier children for the next two decades of their educational lives," Forestal said. "The young children could have had a jump-start on education, but now they are left alone in the starting blocks because FSSA was unprepared to implement the intent of the General Assembly."
Kevin Bain, chairman of the state's Early Learning Advisory Committee, told the Evansville Courier & Press he understood why the preschool program isn't ready to start.
"You couldn't make it work from a timeline standpoint," said Kevin Bain, executive director and CEO of the Evansville-based Welborn Baptist Foundation.