Parents of young children get a number to call for help finding preschools

Indianapolis-based Early Learning Indiana announced today it will use more than $10 million in federal grant money over three years to support a statewide push to help low income families find child care and preschool options for young children.

The program established a statewide call-center (1-800-299-1627) and online search tool to make searching easier for families.

Non-profit Early Learning Indiana is the state’s oldest child care provider, but in this case the group will provide coordination and support for preschools and child care centers across the state. The group will aid nine local referral agencies around Indiana that offer information for families searching for child care, offer training for staff at preschools and child care centers and provide other services.

Indiana in 2014 for the first time began offering state aid to support preschool scholarships for poor children with a small pilot program in five counties. The city of Indianapolis also launched its own preschool scholarship program the following year. Both of those programs have attracted far more applicants than scholarships available.

“We’ve seen a stronger interest from families for childcare and early learning opportunities for children of all ages, as well as an increased demand for preschool,” said Kent Mitchell, vice president of outreach and partnerships for Early Learning Indiana.

There could soon be more demand for quality preschool, if politicians advocating for expansion get their way.  Governor Mike Pence, state Superintendent Glenda Ritz and Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg have all called for expanding state-supported preschool scholarships.

Less than 40 percent of Indiana children ages five and younger who are enrolled in a preschool or child care center, attend one that has a high quality rating according to Early Learning Indiana, meaning they rate a 3 or 4 on the state’s four-step voluntary ranking system.

“Preschool expansion — if it does happen here in Indiana, and we hope it does — will be a critical moment in our state,” Mitchell said. “This contract positions us and our local agencies to be in a position to support that. We really need a coordinating agency like this…we’ll  support the local agency to ensure that they are well-staffed, well-trained and ensure they are being effective in their communities.”

Early Learning Indiana has a goal to increase the percentage of children in high quality childcare and preschool programs to 75 percent in the next decade.