Late last week the news broke that Governor Mike Pence had rejected a federal grant for which Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz had applied.   The  $80 million grant was for the expansion of government preschool in Indiana.   Governor Pence is a supporter of government preschool.  On that issue we strongly disagree.  (I am skeptical that pre-k will succeed here when it has failed to deliver results in other states attempting “high quality” programs.) Yet, the former congressman has consistently been very wary of federal intervention in Indiana’s education policies.

The media, particularly the Indianapolis Star, flipped out over this news.  On the day the story broke the state’s largest newspaper wrote three stories and a staff editorial about it, each blasting the Governor.  They placed an editorial column at the top of the fold of the front page where news stories usually go, just below the banner.    The paper and others reacted as if this was some sort of harmful move against children.  In fact, just the opposite is true.

The grant would have forced Indiana to go beyond what the legislature, the policy setting arm of our government, had approved this spring.  Before a pilot and study of pre-k had even begun, Supt. Ritz and the Obama Administration wanted to go head first into full-day preschool, overstepping the legislature’s plan.

The Governor was correct to, as he told radio host Greg Garrison, “respect the will of the legislature” with only the limited preschool pilot.  The federal government has a horrible record with preschool for poor children.  Under President Obama taxpayer funding for Head Start, the federal preschool program for poor children which began as part of LBJ’s Great Society in 1965, has been $8 billion a year.  In fact, since its beginning, taxpayers have spent over $180 billion for preschool.  Since 1965, preschool enrollment for all four year olds has gone from 16% to nearly 70%, yet reading scores have remained stagnant.

In December 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency that administers Head Start, released a scientifically rigorous evaluation of more than 5,000 children participating in the program. It found that Head Start had little to no impact on cognitive, social-emotional, health, or parenting practices of its participants. The study also found that any academic gains of the preschool participants disappeared by 3rd grade.

In past emails I have also pointed to various studies showing the failures of state pre-k programs to retain any lasting academic benefit.  For example, a 2013 Vanderbilt University study of Tennessee’s state-run pre-K program found the same pattern. Pre-K kids finished significantly ahead of their peers who didn’t attend the program in language, math skills and behavioral indicators, but by the end of kindergarten their cognitive advantages had evaporated.  It is such a common finding (Washington State University recently analyzed 49 preschool studies with the same outcomes) that researchers gave it a name.  They call it “fade out.”

This is not to say that preschool is wrong or bad.  Parents deserve choices of home, church, private, state, or Head Start options.  Yet, if all the money goes to federal and state run programs it will crowd out private, church and home options.  What would be wrong is making children guinea pigs for government bureaucrats and social engineers.

Governor Pence is not the first to say no to this grant.  Governor Bobby Jindalof Louisiana saw it as a Trojan Horse for the controversial Common Core federal program.  This is what the American Principles Project learned about this grant from Jindal’s recent rejection:

       While it is true the grant selection criteria do not explicitly mention Common Core, they do award points for “[t]he extent to which the State has an ambitious and achievable plan to align High-Quality Preschool Programs supported by this grant with programs and systems that serve children from birth through third grade…”  This includes the alignment of “[c]hild learning standards and expectations.”  Since many states have already implemented the Common Core standards in elementary school grades, it is not a stretch to see how this may incentivize states to align preschool standards with the Common Core as well.

In fact, this is already happening . . . Other states applying for the Preschool Development Grants have taken steps to align their preschool standards to the Common Core as well (see, for example: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Washington).

In addition to encouraging states to put preschoolers on a Common Core track,the grant also comes with a data-collection provision.  Among the many program requirements is a stipulation that “[t]he State must have a Statewide Longitudinal Data System that links early childhood data with the State’s kindergarten through grade 12 (K-12) data system by the end of the grant period.”  With concernsalready being raised about the collection of student data at the K-12 level, it is certainly not reassuring that states will now be required to collect data on preschoolers as well.

Governor Pence has consistently said of the Common Core that Hoosiers, not bureaucrats in Washington, DC, should make Indiana’s education standards.   His decision to say no to this “gift” from Washington was the responsible one.

You can hear our daily radio news minute on this which aired yesterday on 24 dial settings across Indiana yesterday, here: