Gov. Pence responds to criticism over pre-K funding issue

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INDIANAPOLIS (Oct. 17, 2014) - Gov. Mike Pence is responding to criticism over his decision this week not to apply for millions of dollars in federal funding for pre-K education.

In a written editorial the governor said the state should develop pre-K "the Indiana way" - though critics say the decision was a mistake.

The federal grant could have meant up to $20 million over the next 4 years for pre-K education, and state superintendent Glenda Ritz called the move a "huge missed opportunity."

"I was extremely disappointed because the Early Learning Committee had been working on this," said Ritz. "I really don’t know the details of why the governor has decided not to submit it."

"I’m very much surprised and I really think there needs to be further explanation from the Governor," said state Senate minority leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson. "Are we going to start turning down all federal dollars at this point in time? What if we have federal emergency management funds we desperately need in the state? Are we just going to walk away from those, because we don’t want anything that has the federal government’s name attached to it?  ... if it’s based upon politics, that’s putting politics before the best interests of the children of the state and I think that’s wrong."

In a written editorial released on Friday, the governor said:

Earlier this year our state made history by approving the first state-funded, pre-kindergarten grant program for low-income families in Indiana. The General Assembly enacted bipartisan legislation to launch a five-county pilot the Indiana way, with $10 million in state funds combined with matching funds from each county. Along with local partners around the state, my administration is hard at work completing the design of the pilot and is on track to start serving thousands of vulnerable children early next year.

Our administration recently decided not to seek federal funding that would have required us to expand our pre-K pilot before it is even up and running. It’s important to note that many early learning programs across the country have not been successful over the years. On behalf of the children the pilot is designed to serve, it is imperative that Indiana get this right. Indiana’s program is based on parental choice and includes the flexibility and accountability needed to ensure children are in programs that get real results.

It is important not to allow the lure of federal grant dollars to define our state’s mission and programs. More federal dollars do not necessarily equal success, especially when those dollars come with requirements and conditions that will not help—and may even hinder—running a successful program of our own making.

An important part of our pre-K pilot is the requirement that we study the program so we understand what works and what doesn’t. I do not believe it is wise policy to expand our pre-K pilot before we have a chance to study and learn from the program.

While accepting federal grant dollars can at times be justified to advance our state's objectives, when it comes to early childhood education, I believe Indiana must develop our own pre-K program without federal intrusion.

Our pilot program will give Hoosiers the opportunity to assist some of our most vulnerable children while we examine the merits of quality pre-K education. Generous, thoughtful and careful development of new policies for our most disadvantaged kids is the Indiana way.

House minority leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, also issued a statement on Friday, saying:

“The people of Indiana have just seen a week where their leaders talked like pro wrestlers, while demonstrating the backbone of invertebrates. It would be fun to watch if these circumstances didn’t offer grim omens for the schoolchildren of Indiana.

“Let us start with the latest head-shaker: the governor’s decision not to seek $80 million in our own federal tax dollars for pre-K programming.

“Set aside that we've again neglected to retrieve the tax dollars we've already sent to Washington. We have experienced this too many times in the debate over affordable health care to make any common sense of it.

“Instead, let us contemplate the continued public pronouncements of those who want to take a lot of credit for establishing a modest pre-school program, yet show no inclination for moving beyond the symbolism.

“Republican leaders can shout at the top of their lungs that they brought pre-school to Indiana. Apparently, the whispers backstage mean something different.

“At the same time, my House Republican friends said they were going to fix our public school funding formula…that they installed, doubled-down on, and bragged about.

"How gratifying that they came to their senses in the weeks prior to an election, but their newfound concern for public schools requires too much memory loss. And when they talk about changing the formula, that usually means pummeling schools in our larger communities and smallest rural areas.

“And I cannot let it escape notice that we continue to endure the regular efforts by our State Board of Education and its shadow government agency called the CECI to subvert the work of our publicly-elected Superintendent of Public Instruction. A year after this board howled that Glenda Ritz was slow to issue letter grades for our schools, now they are asking for delays in issuing those same grades…except for one school that has been the focal point of so much controversy.

“None of this should make the people of Indiana feel that we are doing enough to make our public schools whole again after years of neglect by one-party rule in state government. Until actions match words, our children's opportunities remain at risk.”

FOX59 also reached out to state school board member Dr. Brad Oliver, who sent us the following statement:

Indiana must continue to pursue high quality prekindergarten programs as national research overwhelmingly shows numerous benefits to States who invest in their youngest citizens. While I have not been involved in decisions pertaining to Indiana's participation in the federal prekindergarten grant program, I interpret the Governor's decision to not participate as an abundance of caution that Indiana retain autonomy in the development of prekindergarten education, without the influence of incongruent priorities often evident in federal grant competitions. Indiana has embarked on an important preschool pilot program and it would be my hope that the Governor and our legislative leaders will seek to increase state funding for high quality preschool programs recognizing the significant social and economical benefits to Indiana.

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