Pence speaks in support of state pre-K pilot program

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(Sept. 24, 2014) - Gov. Mike Pence spoke in support of Indiana's first state-funded pre-K pilot program, as some questions about how the program will be evaluated are still lingering.

In the first face-to-face meeting of various officials from five different counties, Pence pointed out how his own views on state-sponsored preschool have changed.

"I will always believe that the best pre-K program is a prosperous family that's able to provide their children in the home with the kind of enrichment that every child deserves," Pence told the audience at the Indiana Government Center. "But the reality that I saw, the reality that so many of you have been working in for many years in your communities is that for too many kids in the state of Indiana, that's just not the case."

Indiana's pre-K pilot program, passed by the General Assembly this year, will test early education for 4-year-olds in Allen, Jackson, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh counties. The counties were chosen based on the most immediate need, and ability to provide for that need.

"Investing in an early childhood education benefits a number of the priority areas that make our community a stronger and a better place," said Kevin Bain, chairman of the Early Learning Advisory Committee.

"These young citizens need and deserve the help so that they can start kindergarten ready to learn and begin a lifetime of learning," said Dr. John Wernert, FSSA Secretary.

But while the governor expressed his support, he also cautioned that it is a pilot program, hinting that Hoosiers should not expect further action on pre-K at the General Assembly in the 2015 Legislative Session.

"The Indiana General Assembly, as you know, this was... this was a heavy lift to get the first funding for pre-K education," Pence said.

When asked how the pilot programs would be evaluated in each county, the governor said it would be an ongoing process.

The meeting took place one day after funding for Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard's $50 million pre-K plan was pushed back by City-County Council Democrats until 2016. Some have said the state pilot program could take its place in Marion County for the time being.

Mayor Greg Ballard has argued that the state program will only serve 800 children, while his plan would serve 1,300.

"I wouldn't want to comment on what local government leaders are deciding in any city in the state of Indiana," Pence told reporters.

The pilot programs in the five counties are expected to get underway at the start of 2015.