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Senate committee advances bill to help spread Dolly Parton Imagination Library statewide

Several small stacks of children's books are scattered neatly on a table next to a mail box.
The program provides a free book, every month, to children up to age 5. All a parent needs to do is sign up.

The Dolly Parton Imagination Library would get help spreading statewide under legislation advanced to the full Senate Thursday.

The program provides a free book, every month, to children up to age 5. All a parent needs to do is sign up.

Brian Lohsl of Indiana United Ways said the program sets up children to thrive.

“Children only get once chance to make the connections needed to succeed in school and life," Lohsl said. "And 90 percent of their brain growth happens before they celebrate their fifth birthday.”

The program requires local partners to provide funding. And in Indiana, there are a few dozen providers entirely shouldering the financial cost – meaning the program isn’t available statewide, particularly in rural areas. Proposed legislation, SB 340, (along with money in the state budget) would provide state-level matching funds to help boost it.

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But not everyone is on board. Sen. Liz Brown (R-Fort Wayne) questioned why the state isn’t focused on other, existing resources.

“We have public libraries now that have free books in them that these parents could participate in,” Brown said.

Brown also said there should be income limits on the program. Sen. Vaneta Becker (R-Evansville), the bill's author, said there’s a reason the program doesn’t have income limits.

“What Dolly Parton didn’t want – she didn’t want a poor kid to be told by a rich kid, ‘You got that book because you’re poor,’” Becker said.

The bill, a priority of Gov. Eric Holcomb's, will be up for a vote by the full Senate next week.

Brandon is our Statehouse bureau chief. Contact him at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

Brandon Smith has covered the Statehouse for Indiana Public Broadcasting for more than a decade, spanning three governors and a dozen legislative sessions. He's also the host of Indiana Week in Review, a weekly political and policy discussion program seen and heard across the state. He previously worked at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and WSPY in Plano, Illinois. His first job in radio was in another state capitol - Jefferson City, Missouri - as a reporter for three stations around the Show-Me State.