JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Republican governors and lawmakers who now control a majority of state capitols have been pushing aggressively to cut spending and shrink government - with one glaring exception.
Many are pumping new money into preschool programs at a rate equaling or even exceeding the Democratic-dominated capitols stereotypically cast as big spenders.
The push reflects a conclusion among conservatives that one part of the social safety net deserves more government help, not less. If it continues, the move could be a step toward creation of a new educational entitlement at a time when both parties are concerned about the costs of the current programs, such as Medicare and Social Security.
Daily Press file photo
A student at the Delta Schoolcraft Intermediate School District preschool models a spider hat she made in this Daily Press file photo. Although some programs are facing cuts, many states — including Michigan — are pumping new money into preschool programs.
For the GOP, the spending could have political consequences. Research indicates that pre-school help appeals to blue-collar voters who are important to broadening the party's base of support.
State funding to help families afford pre-school plunged a couple of years ago because of the lingering effects of the recession. But it has surged back and is now $400 million higher than before the economic downturn, according to a recent report by the Education Commission for the States.
In the 2013-2014 school year, funding rose in 30 of the 40 states that provide preschool aid. The three largest increases occurred in Republican dominated states - a $65 million spending hike in Michigan, nearly $48 million in Texas and about $27 million in South Carolina.
Republicans are putting their own twist on the preschool programs. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has framed it as a "voucher" for lower-income parents to send their children to the public, private or parochial preschool of their choice. Mississippi has launched its first state-funded preschool program through competitive grants. And Missouri's Republican-led Legislature, which cut preschool grants while reforming eligibility a couple of years ago, now will be considering whether to triple funding.