Nixed grant could have sent 5,700 to preschool

The federal grant application that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence decided not to submit could have helped send 5,700 more state children to preschool programs, documents show.

A draft of the application obtained by the Evansville Courier & Press shows state agencies projected the $80 million in federal money over four years would've nearly tripled the number of children in the new state-funded pre-kindergarten pilot program. About 2,000 children are expected in the program that starts in five counties next year.

Pence, a Republican, said this week he stood by his decision to not apply for the grant and believed it wasn't wise to expand the pre-K program before it was reviewed. Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, and some business leaders have urged Pence to reconsider.

Work on the application wasn't finished because those preparing it stopped when they were told the state wasn't applying, according to Melanie Brizzi, an early childhood official with the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration.

The draft said the federal grant also would have expanded income eligibility.

Under the state program, families of four with incomes up to about $30,000 a year would qualify. If Indiana had received the federal grant, the income eligibility for those families could have increased to $44,122 a year, which aligns with the income range for the free and reduced lunch program.

The document praised the grant as "an extraordinary opportunity for Indiana to build on the significant progress made in the state in the past few years to develop and expand high quality preschool for young Indiana children."

Ritz said staffers in her department and others had spent hundreds of hours working on the application and that the grant was a "once in a decade opportunity for Indiana to invest in a sustainable early childhood infrastructure."

The draft application estimates Indiana would've spent $52 million of grant money to support the enrollment of children in pre-K and to improve current preschool programs. About $28 million was projected for costs such as enhancing the state's early learning development standards, creating a pre-K program endorsement process and improving professional development programs.

Pence pushed for a broader state preschool program than legislators approved this year, but his decision to nix the federal grant has been supported by tea party and religious conservative groups who say they worry about greater federal involvement and mandates that might have come with the funding.

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