The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, June 07, 2016 10:02 pm

Pre-K tops Ritz education priorities

Niki Kelly | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz on Tuesday outlined her 2016 education policy priorities with a spotlight on expanding pre-kindergarten to all Hoosier children.

She wants to make high-quality pre-K available within the boundaries of every school district in the state regardless of income of the child.

"Through a combination of leveraging federal dollars, reverting state allocations and eliminating wasteful spending in the state’s budget, the funds are there if the political will exists," she said. "With less than 1 percent of the state’s annual budget, we can ensure more of our children are kindergarten ready."

The cost would be about $150 million a year, and Ritz said more details would be released this week.

The announcement came less than a week after Gov. Mike Pence said he would push lawmakers to expand a five-county preschool pilot he started for disadvantaged children.

The governor told reporters after Ritz’s news conference that he prefers a voucher-type system where parents can use the state dollars to send their child to preschool in a public, private or faith-based setting.

"I think the framework we created, which really focused resources on opening doors for pre-K education to kids that aren’t getting the enrichment in the home, is the right pathway," Pence said.

The current preschool pilot has a $10 million annual appropriation, and lawmakers have set up a study to see if students in the program see long-term gains. It is aimed at lower-income families. 

Ritz is running for re-election this year and will face one of two Republicans seeking the nomination – Dawn Wooten of Fort Wayne or Jennifer McCormick of Yorktown.

Ritz said she will push several other initiatives in the upcoming budget session of the General Assembly, including equity in the school funding formula.

State dollars currently follow the child which Ritz said creates a disparity in programming depending on where a child attends school.

"It is most important that we not have inequity on what students are offered and have access to in the state of Indiana," she said. "The department up until now hasn’t said too much about the funding formula but we’re getting ready to."

Ritz also wants to close the digital divide; provide support services for those students who qualify for the 21st Century Scholars program; and allow public school families to take advantage of tax breaks for educational materials currently available to private and home-school families.

"Moving forward, I am committed to building on the accomplishments of the last four years and working with all branches of state government to serve Indiana’s students," she said. "Our children, our communities and our state demand nothing less as we Imagine 2020."

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