- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 21, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Gov. Mike Pence stood by his decision not to seek a federal preschool grant worth up to $80 million Tuesday despite calls for him to reconsider.

School Superintendent Glenda Ritz and Indiana State Board of Education members Gordon Hendry of Indianapolis and Tony Walker of Gary issued statements urging Pence to reconsider after the U.S. Department of Education extended its deadline for the grant to Wednesday. It is worth $20 million a year for up to four years.

“While I respect the views of those who support applying for federal (pre-K) funding, I stand by my decision,” Pence said in a statement. “Federal funding does not guarantee success. This is not about the money, it’s about our children and we have an obligation to get it right.”

Pence said his administration was focused on the launch of a five-county pre-K pilot program, which was approved by the General Assembly this year and starts next year. Pence lobbied lawmakers extensively for a preschool voucher program and succeeded in winning a pared-down version of his original request.

Advocates seeking the grant have estimated it could have helped Indiana serve up to 2,000 more children from low-income families.

Ritz said the grant was a “once in a decade opportunity for Indiana to invest in a sustainable early childhood infrastructure.”

“The Indiana Department of Education has spent hundreds of hours working with the Family and Social Services Administration on our grant application,” she said. “The work is done, all the application needs now is Governor Pence’s signature.”

Hendry and Walker said they were concerned that not pursuing the grant “will leave low-income families across the state and especially in urban areas without access to high-quality pre-K programs.”

In a recent op-ed that appeared in several newspapers, Pence wrote that federal funds can come with requirements and conditions that could hinder running a successful pre-K program. He also said a key part of the state’s pre-K pilot is a requirement to study the program to understand which parts are working and which are not.

“I do not believe it is wise policy to expand our pre-K pilot before we have a chance to study and learn from the program,” Pence wrote.

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