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“Your Day-Care Kids Get the Short End of the Emotional Stick:” How Mike Pence Criticized Early Education in 1997

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Early education has now become a bipartisan issue as leaders--despite their differences--can mostly agree that investing into early childcare is critical for the development of the country’s children. Providing access to affordable and quality childcare for young learners is something that pretty much everyone can get behind without fear of losing voter support.

Announced formally as Republican candidate Donald Trump’s running mate, Indiana’s governor Mike Pence has had plenty of political experience in contrast to his partner and as a result has a fairly long background working in education issues, including in early education ones.

For this reason, Trump is capitalizing on his running mate’s experience and using his work in education to his advantage, touting Pence as the kind of education advisor he needs.

As governor, however, Pence has a mixed record on supporting early childhood education thus far. Often at odds with education officials in his state, Pence did fight for the passage of a pre-K pilot program dedicated to improving publicly funded early education in the state. In the years following, Pence repeatedly announced his commitment to growing resources to provide more of the state’s disadvantaged children quality access.

This is good news. The bad news is that it’s hard to interpret whether Pence’s concern is genuine and therefore hard to interpret whether he’ll stick with the fight if in the vice presidential role.

The fight is important. Last month, a first-of-its-kind state-by-state analysis of early education found the early educator workforce to be suffering in all 50 states. Underpaid and under supported, the report from UC Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Child Care Employment found that significant improvement needs to be made in order for high-quality early education services to truly be achieved.

Disparaging comments made by Pence in 1997 indicate that his heart might not be in the right place to be the person to inspire such changes on the national level.

In 1997, Pence wrote a letter to the Indianapolis Star criticizing the culture of putting children into day-care while both parents work. These kids, Pence argued, inevitably grow up to have stunted emotional growth regardless of having “good language and cognitive skills.”

“Sure, you can have it all...But your day-care kids get the short end of the emotional stick,” he said in the letter.

Note that Pence does not argue that early education does not have the capability to provide children with the cognitive skills they need to be successful adults. Regardless of how high-quality the program is, Pence makes it clear he believes a child raised in early education programs is inherently being short-changed.

And if that’s how he feels, why should we believe that he’ll be the champion that early education so desperately needs?

It becomes less and less of a coincidence, then, that Indiana’s State Superintendent of Schools Glenda Ritz has criticized Pence for being one of the main reasons Indiana is so far behind in providing quality early ed programs.

In 2014, Pence turned down $80 million in federal funding to develop a statewide pre-K program after being concerned about having to deal with the “strings attached.” Recently, he expressed interest in a similar grant to finally get the ball rolling on such a program.

This move has left many unimpressed, with one member of the Indiana Democratic Party even calling Pence’s moves “political showboating.”

"Mike Pence’s letter is not just political showboating in an election year, but it’s an attempt to pull one over on Hoosiers, hoping they’ll forget his negligent decision to leave thousands of Hoosier children without an early start to their education. Actions speak louder than words, and Hoosiers are fed up with the governor’s out-of-touch, election-year agenda,” said John Zody in a letter to The Kokomo Tribune.

So while decade-old comments from 1997 might not seem extremely relevant when considered as is, taken in context, they’re a lot more telling.

Read more about where Mike Pence stands on education here.

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor


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