IN Focus: Race for governor heating up with new ads, pre-K debate

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INDIANAPOLIS - In the race for governor, this week brings new ads and a new debate over a statewide pre-K program. This year's gubernatorial race is a rematch for 2012- with incumbent Gov. Mike Pence pitted against Democrat John Gregg, who recently announced his choice for running mate, State Rep. Christina Hale (who appeared on this week's edition of IN Focus,  in the video above).

This past week, Pence announced his intentions to expand after a yearlong pilot program proved to be a success.

Still, Pence is having to explain his change of heart. Two years ago, when he announced the launch of the pilot Pre-K program, he turned down $80 million in federal funding for it. Now though, he wants those same federal funds to expand the program.

Pence’s latest campaign ad touts the success of his pilot pre-K program. A program that had to turn away thousands of Hoosier children, because it was limited in the numbers of kids it could serve.

“There’s significant demand as evidenced by the 3,500 low income children that we had to turn away in Marion County alone,” said Ann Murtlow, President and CEO of the United Way of Central Indiana, the organization responsible for running the Pre-K program.

The program's limitations are due in part to a lack of funding for it. When the program launched in 2014, Pence decided not to apply for $80 million in federal grants to pay for it. But now, the Governor is asking the feds to foot part of the bill. Pence announced his desire to expand the program on Thursday and provide need-based Pre-K to the entire state.

It’s a move many critics are saying is rooted in politics, making Pence more appealing in what’s looking like a tough election year.

“There’s always going to be comments in politics and we take them for what they’re worth. My focus is on kids in Indiana,” said Pence.

Pence was the first Indiana Governor to even pursue a state-wide Pre-K program. He is now though having to defend his move to wait on federal grant funding.

“Expanding into Pre-K education two years ago was historic, I thought it was important that we did it in a measured way, that we studied it in a pilot program, we’ve done that now,” he said.

Critics are blasting the Governor, noting that thousands of kids could have been served had he not waited on the expansion. State Superintendent, Glenda Ritz released a statement following the Governor’s announcement, claiming “Indiana is years behind in implementing Pre-K” because Pence passed on federal funding.

Pence will be asking the General Assembly in the upcoming session to approve the additional funding for the 2017 budget. The program would expand to become a need-based Pre-K program, accessible to children in every corner of the state.

While Pence's recent ads tout the launch of the pre-K pilot program, another new ad launching Monday takes aim at John Gregg's record as Indiana House Speaker. The ad was produced by the Republican Governors Association, which is spending millions to help Pence's re-election efforts.

Pence deputy campaign manager Marc Lotter addresses the pre-K issue and the latest ads in the race for Governor, in the video below.

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