Great Recession lingers in Indiana

 

Years ago, as I drove through the north side of Indianapolis, I’d listen on my car radio to a conservative talk show host struggling without a guest. As he tried to coax phone calls from his audience, I might stop in at the radio station.

Often I told him, “Mike, you’re too intelligent to believe the things you say.” I no longer believe that is true.

Governor Mike Pence demonstrates a disregard for the economic well-being of Hoosiers. He is dominated by the ultra-right wing of a once proud and effective Republican party. He allows the short-sighted leadership of that party to dictate foolish policies undermining Indiana’s future.

We need go back no further than the Governor’s refusal last week to apply for $80 million in federal aid for pre-kindergarten programs. This money is not assured, but Indiana had a chance to compete for the funds. The Governor declined to have the state apply for the money.

Why would Mike Pence do this? His answer: we don’t know nor trust the strings the feds might attach to the money. Indiana should go its own way to be free of unwanted regulations.

This reason is based on a profound anti-government paranoia that afflicts too many Americans on the left and the right. In this case, it reduces the opportunities of our youngest, often our poorest citizens to start life with higher quality pre-school experiences. Instead of leveling the playing field, those who have committed the crime of coming into a poor, dysfunctional household, are consigned to an obstructed start to life.

Instead of largely unqualified, inconsistent daycare, we could be moving toward better programs preparing students for school. We could teach them how to interact more effectively with persons from backgrounds unlike their own. We could help them develop essential skills they will depend on in school, on the job and in the wider society.

The Governor says we need to see what works and what doesn’t work in Indiana. Are our kids really different from those in our neighboring states? Have they, by age three or four, developed such geographically distinctive personalities that they need a significantly differentiated curriculum?

The answers are No and No.

Why has Governor Pence chosen to turn away the possibility of federal assistance for a program he says he wants? The answer, I fear, is he wants to shield church-run daycare facilities from more rigorous inspections, tougher standards, and demanding certification.

The current weak-kneed policies of the State of Indiana allow the unqualified to run inadequate, often unsafe facilities for the poorest of our children in the name of amorphous religion. Then, those who won’t help them get to the starting blocks complain these children are not prepared for school, not ready to learn, do not learn and cannot compete in the labor force.

Based on his decisions on Medicaid, Mike Pence seems to be at war with the poor. With his most recent rejection of funding for pre-school students, he is intensifying that war and continuing to imperil our state’s future.

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