Forestal questions postponement of pre-k program

June 2, 2014 Dan Forestal

For immediate release:
June 2, 2014

STATEHOUSE – State Rep. Dan Forestal (D-Indianapolis) wrote letters to Gov. Mike Pence and Indiana Family & Social Services Administration (FSSA) Secretary Debra Minott asking why the FSSA is delaying implementation of the pre-kindergarten (pre-k) pilot program, which was passed by the Indiana General Assembly earlier this year and advocated by the governor.

Forestal’s letter to Gov. Pence is available at this link.

Initially the program was expected to be ready as early as August, but now FSSA officials said they could not implement it in time for this coming school year.

“That means another year lost and, along with it, an opportunity for young children to be better pre-prepared for their educational careers,” said Forestal. “This is not a delay without ramifications. It will negatively affect Hoosier children for the next two decades of their educational lives. The young children could have had a jump start on education, but now they are left alone in the starting blocks because FSSA was unprepared to implement the intent of the General Assembly. I have questions for the governor and Secretary Minott. I want answers and a firm timeline – now.”

Forestal said the money was appropriated for a pre-k pilot program by the Indiana General Assembly in 2013. The Legislature reinforced and revalidated that the money was transferrable in House Bill 1004 (HB 1004) during the 2014 session. Forestal, a co-author of HB 1004, said he wants an explanation about whether FSSA is unready and, if so, why it is not ready to implement this critical, pilot program. He asked why FSSA could not meet the criteria of the law, when state officials knew what the requirements were months ago.

“Perhaps the largest question in my mind is why the governor and the Republican supermajority in both chambers insisted that FSSA run this program, instead of the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE), which was already doing research and laying groundwork for a pre-k program,” said Forestal. “I know of the Republicans’ animosity toward Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, but it makes no sense to play partisan games with the future of children’s educational opportunities. It is wrong, absolutely, unequivocally wrong.”

Forestal mentioned that Ritz and her IDOE officials have been hosting a series of statewide, early-learning summits designed to gather input, so an early-learning infrastructure could be designed and implemented. He added that FSSA does not have the educational expertise to put a pre-k program into place, which is evidenced by the year-long delay.

“FSSA has had more than its share of troubles in recent years,” reflected Forestal. “It has many important, health and social service responsibilities to the citizens of Indiana. FSSA oversees Medicaid eligibility, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, the cash assistance program, called TANF, the Division of Disability and Rehabilitative Services, the Division of Mental Health and Addiction, and the Division of Aging.

“I think FSSA has enough on its plate if the governor wants those officials to do their job properly and well,” continued Forestal. “FSSA, however, does not have educational professionals, like Superintendent Glenda Ritz and her IDOE officials. Again, I am asking the governor and his Republican supermajorities, who seem to be having trouble meeting deadlines and governing, to put partisan politics aside in the interest of Indiana’s children.”