Indianapolis among finalists for state preschool pilot

Indianapolis is one of several key Indiana cities still eligible for the state’s new preschool pilot program, for which 18 finalist counties were announced today.

Five counties will be picked by the end of July where up to 4,000 poor four-year-olds could receive $10 million in state dollars to cover the cost of high-rated preschool programs.

The 18 counties invited to submit proposals by June 30 are Allen, Bartholomew, Delaware, Elkhart, Grant, Howard, Jackson, Kosciusko, Lake, Lawrence, Madison, Marion, Noble, St. Joseph, Tippecanoe, Vanderburgh, Vigo and Wayne. The announcement came at this morning’s Indiana State Board of Education meeting.

A bill creating the program was pushed through the legislature by Gov. Mike Pence, who made it a top priority for Indiana to join 41 states that offer some state support for preschool. For several years, efforts to establish state aid for preschool in Indiana had been frustrated by worries about the cost and other concerns.

The finalist counties include other major cities beyond Indianapolis — among them are Fort Wayne, Gary, Evansville, Muncie, Lafayette and Richmond — plus six rural counties.

Indianapolis Public Schools and some local charter schools have recently announced preschool expansions of their own, so if Marion County is selected it could mean a solid boost in preschool options in Indianapolis.

A full launch of the pilot program is expected by next summer, but some counties could start as early as January.

Part of that depends on fundraising. The program allows preschool providers or the Family and Social Services Administration to match another $5 million in grants or private contributions. The entire program, therefore, could spend $15 million in public and private money on tuition support for children to attend preschools.

The finalist counties include about 17,000 eligible children.

Income eligibility limit for a family four will be $30,289 annually. For families, tuition aid would range between $2,500 and $6,800 a year depending on income. The pilot is only limited by budget. There is no cap on the number of participants.