For immediate release:
Oct. 22, 2014
INDIANAPOLIS - State Rep. Vernon G. Smith (D-Gary), ranking Democrat on the Indiana House Education Committee, said he was shocked and greatly disappointed that Gov. Mike Pence would not sign an application for an $80 million federal grant that would have enabled 2,000 low-income children the opportunity for early childhood education.
“The General Assembly has been working in a bipartisan manner to open the doors of opportunity for Indiana’s young children, so they could get an early start on education,” said Rep. Smith, who is an education professor at Indiana University Northwest.
“Then Gov. Pence gets cold feet and locks the children out of the school by not seeking adequate funding for pre-K education. I read his explanation and cannot fathom why he did not apply, unless it was pressure from anti-public education groups.
“The federal government actually extended the deadline for the application by an entire day to accommodate Indiana,” explained Rep. Smith. “Yet, the governor said he would not change his mind and said, quote, ‘Federal funding does not guarantee success.’ Well, the truth is governor that without adequate funding there is a guarantee for failure. Money for a needed operation doesn’t guarantee success either, but without it there will be no operation. You can’t cut corners with a life-saving medical procedure and you absolutely shouldn’t cut corners with the future of our children.”
Rep. Smith said the Indiana Department of Education spent hundreds of hours working with the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration to carefully prepare the grant application. He added the governor only had to sign his name and send the application to Washington, D.C.
“Until last week, everyone thought the application was going to be sent and that Indiana had a very good chance of securing it,” said Rep. Smith.
“The grant is intended for states that need a pre-K infrastructure and Indiana was one of only 16 states eligible to apply. Everything looked like it was going our way. And then Gov. Pence sends an internal email to the Indiana Early Learning Advisory Committee (ELAC) at the 11th hour to say he was not going to send the application. Two weeks ago, I and other members of the Interim Study Committee on Education heard extensive testimony and recommendations from ELAC about preparations for early childhood education. Never was there an indication from Gov. Pence that he was not going to apply for the $80 million grant.
“Not only do 2,000 low-income children lose an opportunity that could be life-changing, but also that $80 million means not being able to adequately improve the state’s pre-K infrastructure as well as funding initiatives, like assessment systems, local coordinators and family engagement programs,” added Rep. Smith.
“It takes money to do these things and Gov. Pence has not indicated where he is going to get that money. And none of us want to see taxes raised when we could have gotten that funding from the federal government.”
Rep. Smith said the General Assembly specifically charged ELAC with researching the feasibility of obtaining grants or other federal funds in order to establish early childhood education programs in Indiana, like the $80 million grant for which Gov. Pence refused to send the application.
“The statistics concerning early childhood education are dramatic,” explained Rep. Smith. “Research shows that 85 percent of a child’s brain develops in the first three years of life, so early education is crucial in the development and success of Indiana’s children. The long-term impact is staggering. We heard testimony in our interim study committee that early childhood education is one of the most effective ways to break the cycle of poverty. Currently, one out of four Hoosier children under the age of three is growing up in poverty. More than half of our state’s children are members of low-income families. Indiana ranks only 39th in the country in per-capita income.
“Early childhood education is cost-effective,” continued Rep. Smith. “Studies indicate that each dollar invested in early education returns between $3 and $12. The savings come through less need for remedial services and a significant reduction in prison incarceration. Children without early education are 25 percent more likely to become school dropouts, 40 percent more likely to become teen parents and 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime. Early childhood education would make a tremendous difference in the district I represent. It would benefit a significantly large percentage of parents and their children. The program would literally change their lives and give those families new hope for their children’s futures.”
During the past legislative session, the Indiana General Assembly showed strong bipartisan support for authorization to establish a five-county, preschool pilot project in the state. Rep. Smith said it was interesting that House Speaker Brian Bosma avoided the subject when discussing the House Republican legislative agenda for 2015.
“Speaker Bosma made absolutely no mention of early childhood education during that long news conference, even though we had just passed the pre-K pilot program as the major education initiative of the 2014 legislative session,” observed Rep. Smith.
“Ironically, Bosma mentioned the need to fix the school funding formula, which the Republicans broke when they wrote the current, inequitable one. The schools in Gary and other urban communities, as well as rural school districts, have been significantly hurt by the GOP’s formula.
“It almost seems like Bosma must have known the governor’s intentions on not seeking the $80 million grant, although Pence sought no input from members of the education committees in the Senate and House of Representatives,” continued Rep. Smith.
“The governor prides himself on transparency, but on important decisions, like this one, he operates in a thick fog like the ones that roll over Lake Michigan. Governor, no one cares if you run for president, but just don’t do it at the expense of low-income, young, Hoosier children. That would be sad and inexcusable.”