- Associated Press - Thursday, October 16, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Gov. Mike Pence’s administration is no longer seeking a federal grant that could provide up to $80 million for preschool programs serving low-income students, according to an internal email obtained by The Indianapolis Star.

The email was sent to members of the state’s Early Learning Advisory Committee by Chairman Kevin Bain, the newspaper reported Thursday. Sent Wednesday, the email included a statement from the administration.

“While accepting federal grant dollars can at times be justified to advance our state’s objectives when it comes to early childhood education, I believe Indiana must develop our own pre-K program for disadvantaged children without federal intrusion,” the statement said. It wasn’t clear who wrote the statement.

The statement said “we must be vigilant as we design the program the Indiana way and avoid the pitfalls that too often accompany untested and unproven objectives in federal policy.”

The Family and Social Services Administration and the state Department of Education had worked on the grant since the federal government rejected a previous application last year. The government recently announced that Indiana was one of two states, along with Arizona, that had qualified to apply for up to $20 million annually for up to four years.

A Pence spokeswoman, Christy Denault, told the Star that Pence was concerned about additional conditions that come with federal grants.

Advocates seeking the grant have estimated it could have helped Indiana serve up to 2,000 more children from low-income families, the Star reported. The grant application also would have targeted millions of dollars toward improving the state’s pre-K infrastructure, such as by funding informational portals to help parents learn about high-quality preschool options.

The decision marked an about-face for Pence, who earlier this year made funding preschool programs one of his top priorities. Pence lobbied lawmakers extensively for a preschool voucher program and succeeded in winning a pared-down version of his original request.

“The governor has a well-established track record and reputation when it comes to weighing federal funding on their merits,” Denault told The Associated Press.

The decision also marked a victory for Pence’s base of conservative and tea party supporters, some of whom had been feeling spurned after key decisions on education standards and Medicaid expansion earlier this year. New education standards sought by Pence were drubbed as too much like Common Core, while tea partiers said his request for a Medicaid waiver amounted to acquiescing on one of the key tenets of the federal health care overhaul. In both cases, Pence argued he was seeking more state control over key areas.

“There continues to be much work that needs to be done to return control of education to Indiana,” activist Heather Crossin said in a statement on the Hoosiers Against Common Core website Thursday, “but turning down this federal grant is a welcomed first step.”

State Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane criticized the decision.

“It seems imprudent that we reject $80 million because of fear of some speculative ‘pitfalls’ and ‘unproven objectives’ perceived attached to them. I fear this is a setback for the advancement of the welfare of the children of our state,” Lanane said in a statement.


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