Studies show children excel with pre-K program


Supporters are encouraged by the first studies on Indiana’s On My Way Pre-K voucher program, highlighting positive results and the potential of academic benefits.

On My Way Pre-K is a state-funded program in which grants are awarded to children from low-income families to attend a high-quality, early learning preschool.

Jackson County was one of five Indiana counties selected to take part in the pilot program, which began in August 2015.

On Jan. 31, the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration released the results of two studies that show children who attend On My Way Pre-K are better prepared for school and the benefits continue well into elementary school.

“The studies show that Indiana’s investment in high-quality early education for the children of lower-income families is helping our youngest learners achieve at their greatest potential for years to come,” Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said. “Giving children a good start on their education pathway delivers a more well-prepared student and ultimately a ready-to-go workforce, both key elements to our state’s future growth and opportunity.”

The first study released by FSSA is a multi-year longitudinal study demonstrating that children who attend the On My Way Pre-K program have stronger school readiness, language and literacy skills than their peers with similar family incomes who attend lower quality child care or prekindergarten programs.

The study was conducted by Purdue University researchers from the Center for Early Learning. It revealed the pattern of On My Way Pre-K children outperforming their peers continued through third and fourth grades as measured in standardized math and English/language arts scores.

Additionally, On My Way Pre-K children from the 2020-21 school year matched up positively compared to national norms established for all prekindergarten children in the inaugural Kindergarten Readiness Indicators assessment, conducted by the University of Chicago.

Results are available online at and

Purdue researchers followed a sample of 376 children who attended an On My Way Pre-K program rated as level three or four on Paths to QUALITY (Indiana’s voluntary early education quality rating and improvement system) and a control cohort of 182 children who attended comparable prekindergarten programs that were either not participating in Paths to QUALITY or were rated level one.

Researchers examined whether children who attended On My Way Pre-K gained more skills than those in comparison programs, and those children did perform better than comparison children on general school readiness skills.

The On My Way Pre-K students also tended to have higher performance on ILEARN English/language arts tests than the comparison children in grades 3 and 4.

“One of the unique features of On My Way Pre-K is that it includes programs that are operated in homes, centers, schools and religious settings,” said Nicole Norvell, director of FSSA’s Office of Early Childhood and Out-of-School Learning. “The children in the study attending various program types had similar outcomes, supporting the concept of a mixed delivery design of early learning, allowing families to choose what is best for their children.”

On My Way Pre-K awards grants to 4-year-old children from low-income families so they may have access to a high-quality pre-K program the year before they begin kindergarten. Families who receive a grant may use it at any approved On My Way Pre-K program throughout the state.

Approved programs may be in a public or private school, licensed child care center, licensed home or registered ministry as long as that program meets the quality requirements and is registered as an On My Way Pre-K provider. Families may choose from a program that is full day or part day and from programs that end with the school year or continue through the summer.

More than 15,000 Hoosier children have attended pre-K through a grant from the On My Way Pre-K program since it began in 2015. The program expanded to 20 counties in 2017 and became a statewide program in 2019, said Marni Lemons, Indiana FSSA media contact.

During the 2020-21 school year, 37 students were enrolled in On My Way Pre-K in Jackson County. That number was down from 58 students in 2019-20 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whitney Reinhart, who is in her first year as principal at Crothersville Elementary School, said 17 children are registered in the On My Way Pre-K program for this school year with a wait list.

“Our program is at Crothersville Elementary School, and those students will attend our kindergarten the following year,” Reinhart said. “I am so proud of our pre-K program at CES, and I love that Crothersville invests in free high-quality early education for our children.”

She said the pre-K program allows children of lower income families to have a strong start as young learners.

“These children are more well-prepared to enter kindergarten and achieve at their greatest potential,” Reinhart said. “I can’t speak highly enough of our pre-K teaching staff and would recommend any parent or interested family to attend our pre-K roundup event at CES this spring.”

Kelly Schmelzle is the lead pre-K teacher at the school, and Kristy Ord is the assistant. Schmelzle successfully helped the program be a recipient of a substantial stabilization grant this year, Reinhart said. That grant is available to all licensed child care programs in the state.

“It is offered thru the OECOSL. It is meant to support child care programs during the pandemic,” Schmelzle said. “We were awarded $100,000 through the grant. I highly recommend other programs to apply. The process is very simple.”

She said funds from the grant can be spent on all of the children in the program, not just On My Way Pre-K children.

“To be an On My Way Pre-K student, you have to be a level three or four in Paths to QUALITY,” Schmelzle said. “Level three or four programs are the highest rated programs in the state.”

Paths to QUALITY is a free voluntary resource for Indiana child care programs. It offers providers knowledge, training and coaching, all focused on helping them provide quality child care, preschool and school-age care, according to

“Children who attend pre-K enhance their early learning skills, such as turn taking, social/emotional, fine motor and large motor,” Schmelzle said. “Kindergarten standards have increased throughout the years. It is very crucial for a child to attend a pre-K program so they can be successful.”

Dan Davis is a member of the Jackson County Education Coalition board of directors by virtue of his job with the Community Foundation of Jackson County. The coalition is what the IRS calls a supporting organization of the foundation.

“Supporting grant dollars come from the coalition’s program funds, which are financed in part from an originating grant from the Cummins Foundation as well as grants from the Community Foundation of Jackson County and financial support of the Seymour Redevelopment Commission and the Jackson County Board of Commissioners and Jackson County Council,” he said.

Davis said these entities all recognize the long-term value of investing in quality early childhood learning.

“Reading the Purdue report supports our contention all along that investing in quality early childhood learning is a benefit for our children and our community as a whole, now and moving forward,” Davis said. “We were proud to be selected as one of the five pilot counties for On My Way Pre-K and as the only rural county selected. We hope that we’ve not only benefited our own community but also helped other rural counties adopt the program as it has expanded through the Indiana General Assembly.”

The Jackson County Education Coalition can accept gifts from individuals and businesses to help continue the On My Way Pre-K program and other work that the coalition supports.

Donations may be sent to the Jackson County Education Coalition in care of the Community Foundation of Jackson County, P.O. Box 1231, Seymour, IN 47274.

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