In February 2014, a year after he was elected, Indiana Governor Mike Pence made a special trip to his state’s Senate.
In a rare move for a governor, Pence was there to testify before lawmakers in support of a bill that would have established a preschool pilot program, which he touted as a priority during his campaign.
Despite the personal appeal, lawmakers were skeptical. According to Chalkbeat Indiana, the pilot program nearly didn’t make it out of the legislature. But Pence and other preschool supporters in the state were ultimately able to create a state-funded preschool tuition support program for about 1,000 children in five counties. (Separately, Indianapolis also created a preschool program for 3- and 4-year-olds. That program is funded by the city and by private dollars.)
“I will always believe the best pre-K program is going to be a prosperous family that can provide a child with the kind of enrichment in the home that every child deserves,” Pence told Chalkbeat Indiana. “But the realization I came to over the last year is that’s simply not the case for too many Indiana kids.”
But a year after that victory, Pence found himself under censure by preschool advocates, who wanted the state to apply for a share of $80 million in federal funds to expand preschools. The state had signaled an intent to apply for the funds, but Pence refused to allow the state to send it is application.
The decision bought a rebuke from the state’s elected education superintendent, Glenda Ritz. “Gov. Pence’s about-face with little or no notice to those who had worked in concert with his administration on the grant application is bad for our state and our children,” she wrote in an editorial.
But Pence has recently changed his mind on the idea of asking the feds for preschool money. In a June letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, he said that expansion money would be welcome after all—because Indiana has now had a chance to see that its state-funded program works.
In supporting a public role in early-childhood education, Pence finds himself out of step with the committee that is drafting the Republican Party’s platform. The draft platform opposed state prekindergarten because it “inserts the state in the family relationship in the very early stages of a child’s life.”
Photo: In March 2015, Gov. Mike Pence joined preschoolers and legislators at DayStar Childcare Ministry in Indianapolis to sign into law Indiana’s first state funding for prekindergarten. Courtesy Indiana Governor’s Office.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.