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Gov. Mike Pence has appointed the leader of the Community Education Coalition in Columbus as a special adviser to his Early Learning Advisory Committee.
John Burnett, executive director of the CEC, said his appointment presents a great opportunity to figure out how the state can best serve children, especially before kindergarten.
Burnett hopes to incorporate his experiences with the Busy Bees Academy, a local effort pushed in part by the CEC, to offer full-day prekindergarten to area children.
When the three-year pilot program was about to end, local schools asked voters in a referendum if they would agree to raise their property taxes by 5 cents per $100 of their homes’ assessed value, or about $16 per year for the owner of a $100,000 home taking standard deductions. However, voters rejected that proposal, with 54 percent voting against.
Following that defeat, the coalition and its partners, including Heritage Fund — the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, raised $1 million from the community to offer 100 scholarships during each of the next two school years for parents to send their 4-year-olds to optional, full-day prekindergarten.
Pence, in this year’s State of the State address, praised local efforts and said many Indiana communities already have launched prekindergarten programs, which will have positive effects on the children.
“One of the best examples is the Busy Bees Academy in Columbus, which serves at-risk and disadvantaged children in my hometown,” Pence said in that speech. “Let’s work together to expand incentives for Hoosiers to support this kind of innovative, community-driven pre-K effort for our low-income children.”
A bill that would have provided $7 million in each of the next two years for a pilot program on early childhood education was approved 93-6 in the Indiana House but died in the Indiana Senate.
Instead, the Indiana General Assembly created an Early Learning Advisory Committee to assess the state’s needs.
Claire Fiddian-Green, the governor’s special assistant for education innovation, said the committee’s duties include assessing the programs that exist in Indiana and figuring out how to align state and federal programs. The committee is to make recommendations to Pence and the General Assembly by June 30 in each of the next two years.
Fiddian-Green also said the committee has access to $2 million that can be granted to early learning programs in the state.
Other committee members include Melanie Brizzi, child care administrator for the Indiana Bureau of Child Care, which is part of the Family and Social Services Administration; Tammy Veselsky, early childhood principal of Traders Point Christian Academy; and, as chairman, Kevin Bain, executive director and chief executive officer of the Welborn Baptist Foundation.
Burnett, along with Connie Sherman, executive director of St. Mary’s Child Center in Indianapolis, will serve as special advisers.
“I look forward to their assessment of the opportunities and challenges Indiana faces in early education, and to their recommendations,” Pence said in a news release.
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