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3 area counties are finalists for pre-K program

INDIANAPOLIS – The Family and Social Services Administration on Wednesday released a list of 18 counties that are eligible to apply for a new state-supported early learning pilot.

Allen, Kosciusko and Noble counties are among the group narrowed for possible proposals. The others are Bartholomew, Delaware, Elkhart, Grant, Howard, Jackson, Lake, Lawrence, Madison, Marion, St. Joseph, Tippecanoe, Vanderburgh, Vigo and Wayne.

Melanie Brizzi, of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, said the counties were chosen based partly on the number of eligible, unserved children and geographic diversity.

Lawmakers approved a bill earlier this year creating a five-county pilot pre-kindergarten program pushed by Gov. Mike Pence. The law – and the money that will fund the pilot – isn’t effective until July 1.

The FSSA still has to choose the counties, establish a kindergarten assessment and choose a vendor to conduct a longitudinal study.

Brizzi said the expected full launch is July 2015 though Pence is pushing for a possible early launch in January.

“If we don’t have any counties ready for that early launch we will continue on with the planned July 2015 launch,” she said.

Brizzi said any entity in a county can submit a readiness proposal, from mayors to schools or established early education groups. But she said the agency will be looking for a county that is collaborating for the children.

Under the law, the agency will create and run the program using up to $10 million in reversions from its existing budget.

Between $1 million and $5 million in private donations are also required to be raised.

Children in homes with income up to 127 percent of the federal poverty level – or about $30,000 for a family of four – would be eligible for pre-kindergarten grants of $2,500 to $6,800 per student.

Public schools and private providers are eligible so long as they meet certain accreditation requirements.

The number of children to be served depends on the funding raised but is expected to be between 1,000 and 4,000.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz pointed out a major challenge to the program will be the mobility of kids in a program – especially if they move to a non-pilot county.

Brizzi acknowledged the challenge and said the agency is already preparing to over-sample children for the study in case some move.

nkelly@jg.net

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