Preschool advocates hoping for change of heart in Pence as grant deadline extended (updated)

Update [5:03 p.m. Monday]:

Gov. Mike Pence says he will not change his mind about his decision not to apply for an $80 million preschool grant, despite the fact the application deadline was extended until tomorrow. State Superintendent Glenda Ritz urged him to submit the state’s application earlier today.

“While I respect the views of those who support applying for federal pre-k funding, I stand by my decision,” Pence said in a statement. “Federal funding does not guarantee success. This is not about the money, it’s about our children and we have an obligation to get it right.  Our administration will remain focused on the successful launch of the five county pre-k pilot program approved by the Indiana General Assembly earlier this year.”

Earlier [4:08 p.m. Monday]:

Early education advocates are calling on Gov. Mike Pence to change his mind and apply for an $80 million preschool grant after learning the federal government has extended the application deadline.

Indiana State Superintendent Glenda Ritz said in a statement today she is urging Pence to apply for the grant after learning the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services have extended their deadline until Wednesday to the 16 states that are eligible because of “technical difficulties” with the grant submission website.

The state already has its application completed and was prepared to submit it last week by the original deadline. But in a last-minute move, Pence decided not to apply because he feared “federal intrusion” in preschool. The move shocked preschool supporters, but was cheered by anti-Common Core and tea party groups in the state.

“Gov. Pence has repeatedly stated his support for creating a high-quality system for early childhood education for Indiana,” Ritz said in a statement. “Now, Indiana needs his actions to back up his words. This grant is a once in a decade opportunity for Indiana to invest in a sustainable early childhood infrastructure, while also benefiting children and families right away. The work is done, all the application needs now is Gov. Pence’s signature.”

Pence’s spokeswoman Christy Denault did not immediately reply to a request for comment, but it seems unlikely that Pence will change his mind. He told the Indianapolis Star’s Matt Tully in an interview published today that the decision not to apply was “a tough call” but “the right thing” to do.

But Tully said Pence, who shepherded preschool pilot program legislation through the Indiana General Assembly earlier this year, didn’t cite a specific problem he had with the grant in their 30-minute phone call.

“I wanted to make sure we were keeping faith with the program that the General Assembly had authorized, which was a pilot program,” Pence told him. “… As governor of the state of Indiana, I looked at this (grant) and thought it was too far, too fast.”

Indiana education advocacy group Stand for Children also called on Pence to take advantage of the new deadline.

“We respectfully request that Governor Pence revisit his decision to not apply for this grant, which could yield nearly $80 million in funding to expand access to quality preschool for thousands of low-income Hoosier children,” said Stand Indiana’s executive director Justin Ohlemiller. “Early indications are that Indiana has a great shot at success if it does apply. That’s why we need to take advantage of this rare second chance to do right by our most vulnerable kids across the state.”

The grant could have netted the state up to $80 million over four years. Indiana has until tomorrow to apply.