Education Funding

Indiana Governor Reverses Course on Seeking Federal Money for Preschool

By Christina A. Samuels — June 06, 2016 2 min read
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In late 2014, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana indicated that his state would not apply for federal dollars that were available to expand preschool, saying that the state would stick to its pilot program.

But Pence, a Republican, has shifted his stance, saying that the state’s experience with its On My Way Pre-K program has prepared the state to take advantage of federal assistance. And, a letter Pence wrote Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell also explains why Pence held his state back from applying for the money earlier, even though that move earned him criticism from Indiana’s education chief.

“By not expanding the preschool program prematurely, I kept a promise I made to key legislative leaders in order to gain their support for my prekindergarten program,” Pence wrote in a June 2 letter to Burwell. “Keeping our word will be critical as we again look to the legislature next year to help us expand prekindergarten programs for those children in need.”

In the letter, Pence asked for details about how to apply for the funds in preparation for the state’s next budget session, which begins in January.

Indiana’s preschool pilot program is open to children from low-income families who live in the counties that include Evansville (Vanderburgh County), Fort Wayne (Allen County) Gary (Lake County), and Indianapolis (Marion County.) Rural Jackson County is also a participant. Demand for the slots has far outstripped supply.

(Indianapolis also has a preschool program funded by the city and private partners. Unlike the state program, Indy PSP enrolls 3-year-olds as well as 4-year-olds.)

ESSA Creates Preschool Development Grant Program With New Rules

The federal Preschool Development Grant program was maintained in the Every Student Succeeds Act, the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. However, it has changed from when it was first introduced. The first incarnation of the grants divided $80 million among 18 states. Some of the states had well-developed programs, and others had preschool programs that were just getting off the ground.

Under ESSA, the new preschool grant program has been authorized for $250 milllion, and will be jointly administered by HHS and the Education Department. However, the new program limits the federal government’s role in mandating rules that states must follow in order to get the money. For example, the federal government cannot tell a state that in order to get the money, it has to have a full-day program, that it has to use certain metrics to evaluate effectiveness, or that it must hire teachers with at least a bachelor’s degree.

Those changes were intentional. The Every Student Succeeds Act includes a statement that "[i]t is the Sense of the Congress that a state retains the right to make decisions, free from federal intrusion, concerning its system of early learning and child care ... States, while protecting the rights of early learning and child care providers, retain the right to make decisions that shall include the age at which to set compulsory attendance in school, the content of a state’s early learning guidelines, and how to determine quality in programs.”

Photo: Gov. Mike Pence of visits Day Nursery in Indianapolis in October 2013. Courtesy Indiana Governor’s Office.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.