- Associated Press - Friday, October 17, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - When tea party activist Heather Crossin discovered Indiana might be close to taking as much as $80 million in federal money for pre-kindergarten funding, she quickly activated a network of religious conservative groups to urge Gov. Mike Pence to turn it down.

Pence did just that a few days later, shocking many people who had previously supported him on the issue. But groups including Crossin’s Hoosiers Against Common Core, the Indiana Association of Home Educators, and the American Family Association of Indiana celebrated a victory.

“In a matter of days, people from all across the state called and emailed their concerns, which allowed them to be heard by Governor Pence,” Crossin wrote in a blog post Wednesday, detailing their efforts.

Supporters of efforts to expand and create pre-kindergarten programs say they are critical in setting up future educational success. But tea party groups and religious conservatives have argued that the federal program is little more than a dressed-up version of federal daycare, a concept that conservatives successfully fought two decades ago.

Crossin is hardly a stalwart Pence supporter; her group lambasted the governor for formally withdrawing the state from Common Core education standards earlier this year, while replacing them with standards strikingly similar to the federal rules. And a little more than a week ago, her group chastised Pence for his creation of a “data czar” to oversee reams of government data, including student information.

Many similar groups, long considered Pence’s political base stemming to his years in Congress, have expressed frustration at his decision to seek an expansion of Medicaid using a state-run alternative.

But Wednesday they were cheering the governor.

Pence Communications Director Christy Denault didn’t disclose how many calls or emails the governor’s office received on the issue but said that the governor would not be bowed by lobbying.

“The governor’s office routinely hears from constituents on a wide variety of issues, but Governor Pence makes his decisions based on fact and principle, not lobbying,” Denault wrote in an email Friday.

Pence’s decision caught many of his own allies on the issue off guard, in part because he had not spoken out before against the federal grant. He opened the year with an extensive push for a state-run preschool voucher program, one that enlisted bipartisan support to dislodge it in the General Assembly amid budget concerns.

But he explained in an op-ed issued Friday that he was concerned federal requirements could derail the state program, by forcing it to an early start.

“On behalf of the children the pilot is designed to serve, it is imperative that Indiana get this right,” Pence wrote.

As of 2012, Indiana received roughly $115 million in federal money to send about 15,500 poor children to preschool programs through Head Start, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Supporters of the governor’s efforts on preschool said they were surprised Wednesday when they discovered he had rejected the grant application. Lucinda Nord, public policy director for the Indiana Association of United Ways, said volunteers working with the governor’s Early Learning Advisory Committee, had been charging ahead with the idea the application would be submitted.

“I did not see this coming at all,” Nord said. “So many volunteers and staff spent countless hours preparing for the State’s application and the next steps that would follow.”

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