Indiana’s first-term governor stood before a couple of hundred educators, lawmakers and policy wonks in a state government center auditorium Wednesday morning to reinforce the critical importance of early childhood education, what he described as “the antidote for the toxin of poverty.”
He spoke with passion about the value of “unleashing the potential in one little boy, one little girl” and closed with a personal story: the journey of one at-risk child who landed in his wife Karen’s classroom years ago and later became a teacher herself. “She calls Karen her ‘other Mom’ today,” Pence said.
It was a surprising talk to mark the launch of a surprising policy achievement — a preschool pilot program designed to serve hundreds of low-income children in five counties, including Marion.
Surprising because, as Pence acknowledged later in an hour-long conversation, early childhood education didn’t make his otherwise exhaustive list of 2012 campaign proposals, which he called, incessantly, his “Roadmap for Indiana.”
Surprising also because Pence started with a bias against public-funded preschool.
“I came from the mindset that federal Head Start doesn’t work. That it doesn’t achieve lasting results,” Pence said after the speech, as we strolled from the government center to his Statehouse office. “But it was a learning experience for me as I traveled the state in 2013. I sat on the carpet with the kids, and I talked to people like Ted Maple at Day Nursery. I began to understand the importance of early childhood education in overcoming the effects of poverty.”Swarens describes in his column a former congressman who was "predictably ideological and partisan, an affable knife-wielder for the party who could sit before the Fox News cameras and slice up Democratic opponents without breaking his smile." Swarens likes the new Mike Pence because he's now "for the common good" and wields an ideological knife the "edges [of which] aren't as sharp these days." Swarens assures us that Pence is still "a proud conservative" who is "no longer hemmed in by a rigid ideology that is the enemy of practicality." Words of praise for Pence all because of his support for pre-K education, eh? Very strange.
Meanwhile, across town at a radio station, talk show host Amos Brown interviewed some people yesterday who run Family Development Services ("FDS"), a nonprofit organization that administers the Head Start program in Marion County. You mean there is already an early childhood education program in Marion County for children growing up in low-income households? There sure is. It's funded entirely by the federal government, and it's been around since the late 1960s. According to FDS's annual report, it spends close to $16 million a year providing early childhood education to about 2,500 children at nine community learning centers across the city. That comes to about $6,400 per child.
Mayor Ballard's plan to provide about $5 million a year to match the state's contribution will supposedly reach about 1,500, or 25% of the estimated 6,000 children living in poverty, with early childhood education opportunities. Ballard wants to give the money to the United Way to direct to providers of early childhood education, presumably preschools like the Day Nursery favored by the elites. Supposedly the wrap on FDS' pre-K education is that it doesn't provide higher level education to the children enrolled in the full-time and part-time programs, a fact disputed by the representatives of FDS who appeared on Brown's radio show. Their annual report says their education programs align with the state Department of Education's School Readiness Goals, along with nationally-recognized assessment tools.
By eliminating the homestead credit to fund the Pence/Ballard pre-K education program, the City of Indianapolis will collect more than $8 million a year in additional property taxes, while the City's public schools will lose a little more than $5 million a year in property tax revenues used to pay for buildings and transportation. It is peculiar that the Pence/Ballard pre-K education plan is by design intended to compete against the existing, 100% federally-funded Head Start program that has been around for decades at the same time it threatens to take away money from our public schools and other local governments. It gives one the impression that it has nothing to do with ensuring that low-income children receive early childhood education opportunities; rather, it's all about which organizations are the recipients of scarce public resources, particularly when education is not even the constitutional or statutory obligation of municipal government, which seems to be doing a pretty lousy job as it is taking care of basic services to the vast majority of residents who reside outside the mile square that encompasses downtown.