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Mike Pence Makes A Change, Rejects Federal Preschool Power Grab

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence breaks with the GOP’s tendency to support more government meddling with small children. It’s a small, but significant, decision.

Fort Wayne, Ind. — The Federalist has hammered Indiana Gov. Mike Pence for caving on Medicaid and Common Core, which can seem a little mean if one thinks it’s okay to ignore present poor judgment on account of past good judgment. But we have good news to report. Pence  refused to sign his name to an application for federal preschool funds this week. In so doing, he shut the door, at least in Indiana and for now, on a federal attempt to push a one-size-fits-none model on early childcare nationwide. Thirty-nine other governors welcomed the intrusion.

Pence may have gotten private satisfaction from spurning Indiana’s state superintendent in the process, given that she’s the only statewide elected Democrat, utterly spastic, and a constant thorn in his side. Her department prepared the federal grant application. But personal politics like that don’t matter when the item at stake is giving the Obama administration the ability to decide how and what Hoosier’s smallest citizens learn, rather than securing that right to their parents.

Preschool is popular. Three-quarters of the nation’s four-year-olds attend preschool. Most Republican-controlled states offer government pre-k, and thirteen Republican-controlled states increased their pre-K spending last year, despite the persistent lack of evidence early childhood programs benefit children long-term. But the  kicker here is that 80 percent of the nation’s kids who attend preschool do so on their parents’ dimes, not on taxpayers’. That’s as it should be, given that preschool is, if anything, essentially an enrichment and childcare service.

Obama Administration Seeks Nationwide Childcare Control

There are huge benefits to parents controlling if their child attends preschool and what kind. For one, there’s structure. Research shows that time-intensive, out-of-home childcare and pre-“school” often hurts small children. In other words, an average child shows measurably more tantrums, acting out, and other emotional and behavior problems if he is in an institution, even for just 15 hours a week, rather than home with his family. Such arrangements also tend to degrade his parents’ parenting skills. This is why many parents choose to put their small children into half-day preschool, or half-day preschool just a few days a week.

To get this federal grant, however, Indiana and the other 15 states eligible would have had to promise the Obama administration they would require preschool programs to run all day and all week, on the same schedule as elementary school. Heather Crossin, the Hoosiers Against Common Core leader who was instrumental in alerting enough networks of concerned Hoosiers to besiege Pence’s office with calls to jettison the grant application, laid it out clearly:

Marketing experts know that for many the term ‘preschool’ conjures up a vision of the small, sweet, two-hour program that operates down the street, likely out of a church. However, these are not the types of programs the federal government wishes to increase and for the taxpayers to fund. They’re not considered ‘high quality’ according to the new federal guidelines published for the Preschool Development Grants.  Rather, only programs that are ‘equivalent to a full school day at the public elementary school’ qualify as such. If that stipulation alone doesn’t wipe most private providers out of the picture, the requirement that ‘instructional staff salaries [be] comparable to the salaries of local K-12 instructional staff’ certainly will. In other words, states are being bribed to create new full-day programs, that will ultimately squeeze and regulate out of business the many private programs that currently exist.

Another thing Heather noted was that accepting the Preschool Development Grant would commit a state to using 35 percent of its “winnings” on pre-k “infrastructure,” “a.k.a. growing the bureaucracy.” The stated goal of the Obama administration is to use the relatively tiny amount of money it has to direct the massive amounts local taxpayers are beginning to shovel into subsidized toddler childcare. So its “awards” go to creating this government nannying system and states are left negotiating with that self-interested bureaucracy and funding that “infrastructure” forever.

There many more problems with allowing the Obama administration to define what “preschool” means in nearly every state, which is already underway through a series of related grants. It requires states to set family eligibility for government childcare at 200 percent of the federal poverty line, which encompasses two-fifths of the nation’s families. Although Pence has “evolved” from acknowledging the research still showing, after 60 years, that government preschool is so far a waste of time and money to pushing through Indiana’s first preschool program, his program was for poorer people, at least (those at 127 percent or less of the poverty line). Indiana and everyone else should be free to decide its criteria for giving out essentially extra social services to children in mentally starved homes, which is about the only thing preschool may be good for (although its results there are, unfortunately, still shaky).

There’s a lot more federal manipulation of state systems involved with this grant, as with almost everything the national government seems to do nowadays: states are more likely to win if they dedicate millions of their own money to the project; preschools must provide “comprehensive services,” such as for vision, dental, hearing, and mental health; and all tots in the system must undergo cognitive and behavioral tests, whose results are recorded in permanent government databases. Hoosiers like me are very thankful our governor stood in the way of inflicting this intrusion on us. Those of you in the other 39 states zipping up the nanny statism suit might want to alert your governors that you feel the same.

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