Gov. Mike Pence sent a letter Thursday to Secretary Sylvia Burwell of the Department o
f Health and Human Services expressing interest in expanding the state’s pre-K program for disadvantaged children.
“Because of the success of our first-ever, state-funded pre-K pilot program, I am committed to opening doors of opportunity to serve even more disadvantaged children in our state,” said Pence in a statement. “Since the On My Way Pre-K pilot program has come online, we’ve served 2,300 kids in the five pilot project counties. I am committed to growing this program using state and available federal resources.”
But not everyone is applauding his move – some say it is coming too late.
“What a shame he didn’t think that way back in October 2014, when he completely rejected an opportunity to get $80 million in federal funds for pre-school programs for low-income students – the same types of students he wants the federal government to help him support now,” said House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, in a statement.
On My Way Pre-K started in 2015 as a pilot program in five counties – Allen, Jackson, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh. The Indiana General Assembly passed the legislation during the 2014 session.
The program provided grants to low-income families of four-year-olds living in one of the participating counties. The families then use the grants to pay for high-quality pre-K a year before heading to kindergarten.
State Superintendent Glenda Ritz said the opportunity should have been afforded statewide sooner.
“Because of Governor Pence’s inaction, Indiana is years behind in implementing pre-K throughout our state,” Ritz said in a statement. “Our children deserve better.”
In the letter, Pence said the delay was planned to give the program time to show its success.
“By not expanding the pilot program prematurely, I kept a promise I made to key legislative leaders in order to gain their support for my prekindergarten program,” Pence said in the letter. “I promised we would not expand the program until we saw evidence that it was working. Keeping our word will be critical as we again look to the legislature next year for additional support to help us expand prekindergarten opportunities for those children in need.”
Pence closes the letter by requesting that the state be informed of when the application for the Preschool Development Grants will be available.
“Efforts have been highly collaborative between state agencies, local leadership, prekindergarten programs and families,” Pence said in the letter. “This is why we are now considering ways to expand as we prepare for the state’s next budget session, which will begin in January 2017.”