Ballard signs city preschool ordinance (update)

Mayor Greg Ballard sat on a tree stump surrounded by four-year-olds today in a Warren Township Schools classroom as he signed an ordinance making the city’s newly approved preschool program a reality.

“I’m really proud that we’ve made it to this point,” Ballard said in front of a room of supporters and teachers. “It says something about our community to see such enthusiastic support. People want this in the city.”

Ballard said he chose to make preschool official in Warren Township because of the district’s existing commitment to preschool. He said he hopes Marion County school districts eventually become providers of the city program.

“They do it really, really well out here,” Ballard said. “We want to help them out as much as we can from our side, try to get as many scholarships and help them in getting quality providers in their system.”

The program’s approval comes as corporate support is mounting for preschool education in Indianapolis.

The Indianapolis business community, led by Eli Lilly and Company, has already netted more than half of its goal to support the city’s recently approved preschool program to provide low-income families with high-quality early education programs.

Lilly, which pledged to rally $10 million to support the public-private program from corporate donors, has raised more than $6.1 million so far. Major gifts include $2 million from Lilly, and $1 million each from Indiana University Health, Cummins and Anthem, the company said.

“This is a great example of the public and private sectors working together to strengthen the fabric of our community,” Rob Smith, president of Lilly’s corporate foundation, said in a statement.  “We want to thank our elected officials for their bold leadership and look forward to working closely with them early next year to ensure full funding of the first year of the program.  We are gratified that many in the business community have made financial pledges and want to thank them for their strong support.  We will be engaging other businesses in the months ahead to raise the full $10 million.”

Other donations include $500,000 from PNC Bank, $250,000 from Indianapolis Power and Light, $200,000 from Community Health and $150,000 from Emmis Communications.

The Republican mayor encountered resistance from the Democrat-led City-County Council soon after he announced his plan for preschool in July.

When political pressure mounted to find a solution to Democrats’ concerns about funding for the plan, Lilly hosted about 50 CEOs, executives and community leaders at their downtown campus to urge support for Ballard’s plan.

The companies said their investments were contingent on Ballard and the Democrat-controlled council working out a deal on preschool.

(Disclosure: Chalkbeat is a grantee of the Eli Lilly and Company Foundation.)