Gregg makes case for ‘preschool for all’

Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg has a detailed education platform on his campaign website. Right at the top is this: “Establish statewide, optional preschool for all.”

That’s a bold pledge in a state that has long dragged its feet on early childhood education. Indiana was late to enact full-day kindergarten. It didn’t provide any pre-K funding until 2014, when it created a small pilot program for low-income families in five counties. And the state’s Republican leaders have been reluctant to expand that program, despite its support from business and civic groups.

Gregg notes that children who attend high-quality preschool programs are more likely to graduate from high school, finish college and get a skilled job. They’re less likely to end up in prison or on government assistance programs. The Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman argues that pre-K programs pay for themselves and generate economic benefits for society.

“Forty other states have figured out how to fund pre-school – so can Indiana,” the campaign site says.

Gregg also faults Republican Gov. Mike Pence – and by extension, Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb, the GOP candidate for governor – for turning his back on a potential $80 million federal preschool grant.

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Three reasons Ritz made the right call

Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz announced last week that she’s dropping her short-lived campaign for governor and throwing her support to John Gregg. That’s good news for Indiana Democrats: It means Ritz and Gregg can campaign together instead of spending the nine months until the May 2016 primary tearing each other down.

Abandoning the bid for the governor’s office and instead seeking re-election to her current position is also the right decision for Ritz to make. Here are three reasons:

Superintendent is an important office. Ritz has been the most vocal and consistent advocate in state government for public education, for students and for teachers. She’s been a voice of sanity when it comes to testing, school grading, and teacher licensing and accountability. She has put a welcome focus on reading and literacy, and her frequent visits to schools around the state – while they may serve a political purpose – put a spotlight on education and its importance to Indiana.

She can do better. True, she has been hamstrung by feuding with Gov. Mike Pence and the State Board of Education and by efforts by Republican legislators to reduce her authority. I’ve been reluctant to blame Ritz, but board members’ complaints about communication may have some substance, based on my interactions with Department of Education staff. Now, however, the board has several new members, and two of Ritz’s most vocal critics are no longer part of the mix. It’s a chance to start fresh and an opportunity show herself to be an effective leader who can work across the aisle, a necessity for a Democrat in Indiana.

She wasn’t going to win. Ritz’s campaign for governor got off to a rocky start with disclosures that it accepted contributions during the 2015 legislative session, a violation of state law. But the real problem was the lack of contributions before and after the session. Ritz raised $30,529 in the first half of this year; Gregg raised $1.76 million. Campaign money isn’t everything – Ritz proved that when she beat Tony Bennett in 2012 – but you need a well-financed campaign to beat Pence, who will be rolling in election cash.

Gregg still faces a contest for the Democratic nomination with state Sen. Karen Tallian, who is courting the party’s progressive wing. Gregg, a former speaker of the Indiana House, had a reputation as something of a conservative in 16 years as a legislator. But lately he has been going after Pence over religious discrimination and other social issues.

And it’s possible for a politician’s views to evolve. After all, according to an Indianapolis Monthly profile, Glenda Ritz often voted Republican until 2008.