Lesley Weidenbener, TheStatehouseFile.com
- Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill earlier this year to create a pre-K pilot program as 5-year-old Rosie Chavez and 4-year-old Tre Embry help with the pens that were later given to lawmakers who helped pass the bill.
Gov. Mike Pence said Tuesday he still won’t apply for up to $80 million in preschool funding – despite an extended federal deadline and calls from several education officials.
Pence said he stands by a decision he made last week not to seek the grant funding, which could have tripled the annual funding for a pre-kindergarten program set to roll out next year in five counties.
The governor’s announcement came after State Board of Education members Gordon Hendry and Tony Walker and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz issued public pleas for Pence to apply for the money.
“Gov. Pence has repeatedly stated his support for creating a high-quality system for early childhood education for Indiana,” Ritz said. “Now, Indiana needs his actions to back up his words.”
Ritz, Walker and Hendry are all Democrats but the latter two were appointed by Pence to serve on the State Board of Education.
The education reform group Stand for Children Indiana weighed in Tuesday as well. The group’s executive director, Justin Ohlemiller, said the grant “could set the stage for Indiana to potentially become a national leader in early childhood education.”
But Pence issued a statement Tuesday afternoon saying that “federal funding does not guarantee success.”
“This is not about the money,” Pence said. “It’s about our children and we have an obligation to get it right. Our administration will remain focused on the successful launch of the five county pre-k pilot program approved by the Indiana General Assembly earlier this year.”
Pence received criticism last week from some pre-kindergarten supporters for opting against the federal funds but some conservatives – particularly those who dislike federal intervention in schools – are supporting him. On Tuesday, federal officials extended the deadline to Wednesday.
Ritz called the three-year grant “a once in a decade opportunity.” And she said the Indiana Department of Education has spent hundreds of hours working with the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration to get the grant application ready.
“The work is done,” Ritz said. “All the application needs now is Gov. Pence’s signature. I am calling on Gov. Pence to do the right thing for Indiana’s students and families and submit this grant application.”
Indiana is in line to receive as much as $20 million annually from the preschool development grant, according to a notice filed in the Federal Register. The document lists Indiana as one of two states eligible for category one funding.
The state program will be funded with $10 million that Pence found in unused FSSA appropriations and does not have funding secured for future years. The five counties participating in the program were required to come up with matching funds, including some from private donations.
Business and education leaders have asked legislators to pay for an expansion of the program in the two-year budget they’ll write in 2015.
Ohlemiller said Pence needs to “continue his leadership on this critical issue.”
“Early indications are that Indiana has a great shot at success if it does apply,” Ohlemiller said. “That’s why we need to take advantage of this rare second chance to do right by our most vulnerable kids across the state.”
Lesley Weidenbener is executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.