Amid key expansion, Indiana fills its On My Way Pre-K seats

After expanding statewide this year, Indiana’s prekindergarten program has filled all its seats — a significant milestone after facing challenges launching in new counties.

On My Way Pre-K is serving 3,517 children this school year, according to Marni Lemons, a spokeswoman for the state’s Family and Social Services Administration. The program offers vouchers for low-income families to send their 4-year-olds to pre-K providers who meet high quality standards.

The state’s pre-K program started small in 2015 and had to tackle two big issues: getting the word out to families and working with providers to improve quality.

Last year, On My Way Pre-K did not reach capacity — a critical factor that kept lawmakers from increasing program funding. Instead, they decided to open up pre-K to all eligible families in Indiana, rather than restricting pre-K vouchers to 20 counties.

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb had pledged to serve 500 more families through On My Way Pre-K this year, while keeping the annual pre-K budget at $22 million.

Early learning advocates could leverage the growing pre-K enrollment to make the case for more funding to serve more children. With its relatively new program, Indiana trails most other states when it comes to public pre-K, and advocates estimate 27,000 4-year-olds in Indiana could be eligible for On My Way Pre-K.

This year, in order to reach more families, the state simplified the pre-K application, streamlined the income verification process, used feedback from families to improve its messaging, and increased its social media presence, Lemons said.

The state has closed the On My Way Pre-K application, so it is not tracking additional families who express interest throughout the year. But low-income families can still call a free hotline at 800-299-1627 for help finding a quality childcare provider or identifying other forms of financial assistance.