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EDITORIAL: Pre-K opposition smells political

September 20, 2014

Early childhood education and more restrictive gun laws come up in most discussions of how to fight crime. Democrats are usually reliable supporters of both strategies, but as we’ve been reminded with Republican Mayor Greg Ballard’s crime-fighting plan, good policy is no match for political gamesmanship.

Democrats on the City-County Council have been uncharacteristically cool to the early education component of Ballard’s anti-crime strategy since he introduced it in July.

The latest blow to the $50 million pre-kindergarten plan came Sept. 16 when a council committee tabled a plan to fund the program, which would provide five years of early childhood education to 1,300 4-year-olds from low-income families.

Under Ballard’s plan, half the cost of the initiative would be borne by the private sector. The rest would come from eliminating the local homestead tax credit, not to be confused with the much larger homestead deduction. The mayor’s office estimates eliminating the credit would cost homeowners who now take advantage of it an extra $22 a year.

Reasonable people can disagree over the funding mechanism. Democrats object to eliminating the homestead credit on a couple of fronts. They say it would be too costly to homeowners, not an especially believable claim. Eliminating the credit would also take money out of the pockets of Marion County school districts, which is a more legitimate concern, although Indianapolis Public Schools supports the pre-K plan in spite of the revenue hit.

IPS, like most council Republicans and select Democrats, has rallied around the early-education plan because of its potential upside: giving at-risk kids a head start that could help break the cycle of poverty and crime that threatens public safety and diminishes the city’s future workforce.

The potential benefits of early education motivated Eli Lilly and Co. to pledge $2 million to the Ballard plan and to push for more private-sector support. The upside is not lost on council Democrat John Barth, who’s been working to come up with a funding plan acceptable to his Democratic peers.

What Ballard, Lilly, Barth and others recognize is just how important it is that Indianapolis begin to make up for lost time in the provision of early childhood education, which Indiana—unlike most states—does not fund.

Democrats are usually front and center as advocates of pre-K education, which makes the obstructionist posture of council Democrats on the issue all the more confounding.

Some have groused publicly that pre-K is the state’s responsibility and that even a compromise funding measure might not win their support.

That sounds like sour grapes from politicians who don’t want to give the mayor a victory on an issue they want to own. It shouldn’t matter that municipal elections are a year away. What matters is finding a way to fund a program that would benefit kids and the broader community.

Democrats who turn their back on the plan are practicing politics at its worst.•

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