Pre-K debate comes to forefront of Indiana governor's race

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Governor Mike Pence says wants to the expand the states Pre-K pilot program if he is re-elected.

He also is exploring how he might secure federal money to help pay for it, but that has Democrats crying foul.

The governor is in re-election mode, touting his first term in office and asking for another. Polls show his race against Democrat John Gregg is neck-and-neck. In fact, they also show Pence trailing the challenger on the issue of education.

So Pence has enlisted his favorite teacher, his wife Karen, to speak for him in a new television ad and he announced he is exploring ways to expand the pilot Pre-K program he implemented in 2014.

"Now that we have learned a lot from the pilot program in five counties around the state of Indiana, as we begin the process of a proposed budget for 2017, I want to explore all the resources available to open doors of opportunity for all kids who don't get enrichment at home that every child deserves," Pence said Friday.

"It's obviously something we should have done when it was first available," U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana) observed.

The senator supports the governor's decision to expand the program, but knows others have missed out by spurning the federal money that was readily available.  

"Instead of just 2,300 having a chance to do it, we could have had thousands more. But now I am glad to do it," Donnelly explained.

Democrat challenger John Gregg says the recent polls that show the governor lagging in the area of education is obviously why he is taking this step now.

"It's all Mike Pence's doing. He spent his time attacking teachers, attacking public education, picking fights with the Superintendent of Public Instruction and Hoosiers don't want to see this.  Education policies should be about kids and, unfortunately, Mike Pence has made it a political football," Gregg spokesman Jeff Harris said.

The governor said his Pre-K based on need program will be included in his 2017 budget, but first of all, he will have to get re-elected.  

Harris told Eyewitness News that the Gregg campaign will have a statewide Pre-K program announcement in a couple of weeks.