1,800 apply for pilot pre-K


Staff and IBJ reports

More than 1,800 applications for the first phase of the state’s pilot preschool program have been received, according to Indiana’s Office of Early Childhood and Out-of-School Learning.

Gov. Mike Pence said the response from families who would like to enroll their 4-year-old children confirms the need for high-quality early education for the state’s most disadvantaged children.

The On My Way Pre-K program begins next month in Allen, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh counties.

The program also is open to children in Jackson County, but enrollment for that program won’t begin until mid-2015.

The delay in Jackson County is designed to increase the number of local preschool providers that can accept the vouchers, procure matching funds and get the estimated 255 students in the county who meet the income guidelines signed up for the voucher program and enrolled in preschool for the 2015-16 school year.

The goal for the first phase of the program was to enroll 350 children. But because of the high demand, the state plans to enroll 100 additional children. A lottery will determine which children will be selected for the available provider slots.

Funding preschool education has been a hot political issue in the state and locally this year.

In Indianapolis, the City-County Council this month authorized a $40 million public-private partnership that will allow more than 1,000 poor children to have access to high-quality preschool starting in 2016.

The plan was a compromise between Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and council Democrats after nearly six months of debate about how to pay for the plan.

Ballard’s plan was resisted by City-County Council Democrats soon after it was proposed. The Democrats said Ballard’s preferred funding mechanism — eliminating the local homestead tax credit — would hurt Indianapolis Public Schools and other Marion County school districts.

After his fellow Democrats effectively killed the plan, Council Vice President John Barth helped resurrect it by meeting with the mayor’s office and business leaders to forge a compromise that doesn’t touch the local homestead tax credit as a funding source.

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