Early Childhood

As Governors, Kaine and Pence Aimed for Expanded Early-Childhood Education

By Christina A. Samuels — October 04, 2016 3 min read
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Tim Kaine and Mike Pence, the Democratic and Republican nominees for vice president, may not have much in common politically, and we’re likely to see that demonstrated during tonight’s sole vice presidential debate at Longwood University in Farmville, Va.

But they do share this: Both Pence and Kaine campaigned for governor on a promise to dramatically expand access to prekindergarten in their respective states, and both ended up having to scale back those ambitions in the face of political or financial headwinds.

However, each state—Virginia, in the case of Tim Kaine, and Indiana, for Mike Pence—have more preschool slots due to each man’s efforts than they did before their time in office.

Kaine Backed Universal Prekindergarten Plan in Virginia

Early-childhood education was a centerpiece of Tim Kaine’s campaign for governor, and he repeated his promise to expand prekindergarten to every 4-year-old in Virginia during his election-night acceptance speech in 2005. Before the election, he said that two of his three children did not go to prekindergarten, but one did.

“I can really tell the difference among them when they got to kindergarten in terms of them being ready to go,” he said then.

Kaine’s proposed initiative, Start Strong, came with a big price tag: $300 million in its first year, which Kaine said would pay for about 80,000 children. He appointed a council to create a blueprint for implementation, but by 2007 he had scrapped that plan, citing a tight budget. Republicans in the state general assembly were also skeptical of the plan.

Kaine was later able to increase the amount of money for the Virginia Preschool Initiative, which provides early education to 4-year-olds from low-income families. Politifact Virginia notes that over Kaine’s single term from 2006-10 (governors in Virginia are limited to one 4-year term) spending on the preschool initiative rose from about $46 million to $59 million. Over the same time, enrollment in the VPI increased from 11,343 children to 15,901.

Pence Sought Prekindergarten for Indiana Children From Low-Income Families

When Mike Pence was running for Indiana governor in 2011, he said he wanted to bring prekindergarten to at-risk 4-year-olds statewide. But once in office, Pence focused on a more limited, but politically palatable, pilot program. He made personal appeals to lawmakers, including a rare move to testify before the state senate’s education committee.

“I’ve seen the challenge facing disadvantaged kids who start school unprepared to learn. It’s not that they are not willing and bright. They simply don’t have the basic knowledge or skills they need when they get to school,” Pence told the senators. “As a parent and as your governor, I find that not only unacceptable, but heartbreaking.”

The pilot program’s passage, even after the personal outreach, was far from guaranteed. But lawmakers ultimately passed a state-funded preschool tuition support program, On My Way Pre-K, which has supported about 2,300 children in five counties since its creation two years ago.

The program is so popular that it is turning away hundreds of applicants. But in a controversial move, Pence decided not to let the state apply for a share of $80 million in federal funds earmarked for expanding state preschool programs. More money does not guarantee success, Pence said, and the federal money could come with red tape.

But in a June letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Pence said that expansion money would be welcome after all, because the state has now had a chance to see that its state program has been successful.

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