Pre-K pilot program coming to Indiana

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) –  Kids who attend pre-kindergarten classes are more likely to graduate from high school and less likely to commit violent crimes. That’s according to The Center for Public Education. Now, state officials hope a new program will set up thousands of Hoosier children for success, including many in Northeast Indiana.

The Pre-K Pilot Program will provide funding to low-income 4-year-olds across the state. Governor Pence approved it earlier this year, and the planning process is well underway. Prior to his approval, Indiana was one of only nine states in the country to not fund pre-kindergarten. It was also the state in the Midwest to not provide the service.

“We’re very excited about this opportunity and really the opportunity to do this right. We’ve got the ability to learn from other states that have gone before us. We’re going to have the right tools in place,” said Melanie Brizzi with the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration.

There are currently 18 counties in the running. Allen, Kosciusko, Noble, and Grant are all finalists. Officials selected them because they meet the criteria as either rural, urban, or suburban counties with the greatest needs. The other counties include Bartholomew, Delaware, Elkhart, Howard, Jackson, Lake, Lawrence, Madison, Marion, St. Joseph, Tippecanoe, Vanderburgh, Vigo and Wayne. According to the FSSA website, these 18 counties from all regions of the state have “an estimated 17,000 eligible 4-year-olds who are not currently receiving learning services.”

“Research tells us that this sort of high quality, early-learning program makes a significant difference in school readiness and future academic success. As this pilot focuses on low-income families, we know that it’s even more important for those children. So, we’re very excited about the opportunity to launch this and have a robust, longitudinal study that’s going to give us some very valuable data and shape how we move forward,” said Brizzi.

The funding comes from a mixture of state funds and private donations. Eligible families will be able to choose from a variety of public, private, and community-based schools.

“The family will be able to use their grant at their choice of eligible early learning programs. That can include a public school or a community based licensed center, licensed home, a registered ministry, or private preschool that is accredited. So, they’ll be able to select from the program that they wish to attend for their child and use their grant at that program,” said Brizzi.

Eligibility is based on income. A child’s family can earn “no more than 127 percent of the federal poverty limit.” For example, a family of four wouldn’t qualify if they earned more than $28,380.

“This is not about parents getting checks. The family will apply for the grant. If they meet those guidelines, they can then go choose an early learning program. Then, the grant will pay that program for the child’s services,” said Brizzi.

The program isn’t slated to started until the fall of 2015, but state officials said they’ll pick the five finalists by the end of July.

“It’s important to set those counties first so that the counties can work on readiness. What we mean by that is are there sufficient early learning programs that meet the requirements. Is there community engagement around the match, and also family engagement. So getting the information out to families so that eligible four-year-olds, their parents have the information and can make the choice and have plenty of time to make that choice,” said Brizzi.

While the program isn’t expected to start until the fall of 2015, the state is considering an early launch in January for counties that are able to prepare in time.

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