State preschool pilot opens next week for 100 Marion County kids

There will be spots for about 100 Marion County 4-year-olds in the state’s pilot preschool program next year.

Marni Lemons, a spokeswoman from the Family and Social Services Administration, said registration and information for families about how to receive a grant would be available as early as next week. The agency opened up registration to preschool providers yesterday.

The pilot will be the first time Indiana has had direct state aid for preschool. Before, Indiana was one of nine states that did not fund early education at all. The bill that created the pilot was a priority for Gov. Mike Pence, who worked with legislators multiple times to make it a reality.

The state-funded program will be called “On My Way Pre-K,” and FSSA Director Melanie Brizzi said getting providers involved is the first step in helping more Indiana children have better access to early childhood education.

“We look forward to engaging as many programs as possible to help us open the doors to new learning opportunities for Hoosier children,” she said in a statement.

Marion County is one of five counties to participate in the pilot, which was created to help poor families send their kids to high quality preschools.

Families can begin applying for grants next week once the agency makes its announcement, Lemons said. They will be notified if they receive a grant around Dec. 15 and can then choose an approved preschool from their county. Children will start preschool in January, and participation is currently limited to kids who would be entering Kindergarten next fall.

With grants and state dollars, the program could end up totaling $15 million in public and private funds. To qualify, a family of four could make up to $30,289 annually. Tuition aid would range between $2,500 and $6,800 a year depending on income.

Preschool providers can continue to apply to participate throughout the duration of the pilot, but the FSSA said they should consider applying sooner rather than later. To be approved, a provider must be rated a level 3 or level 4, among other requirements detailed on FSSA’s website.