2 big ideas deserve separate attention

(Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel

The Republican majority in the General Assembly is very fond of education vouchers, voting to expand them far beyond the original scope of the choice program. But they are less enthusiastic about government funding for pre-kindergarten education. There is a pilot program affecting only five counties, and the most anybody is talking about this year is doubling it to 10 counties, still a very long way from universal pre-K.

Now, somebody has had the bright idea to put expansions of those two concepts into the same bill, and somebody should separate them sooner rather than later.

The most obvious need for the separation is that a lot of pre-K advocates don’t think as highly of choice, and some enthusiasts of choice are not so fond of pre-K. Having both concepts in the same bill sets up a philosophical clash that will eave some legislators not sure which way they should vote on the bill.

What the bill does is set up a new pathway into the voucher system. If the bill becomes law, it would allow pre-K students who receive grants under the pilot program — and meet certain income requirement — to become automatically eligible for the K-12 voucher program when they reach kindergarten. Eligible students could access vouchers sooner than they could otherwise.

School choice is a big, bold idea, one that has generated controversy. Pre-K education is a big idea, one that has generated controversy. Both involve a significant expenditure of funds. Each will require careful study and followup investigation to determine if they’re actually delivering what was promised.

Each idea deserves to be be debated thoroughly on its own merits. That will be difficult to do as long as they are in the same bill. Let’s put a little space between them.

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