Demand for pre-K scholarships in Indianapolis exceeds funds

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A program offering pre-kindergarten scholarships to low-income Indianapolis families is seeing demand far beyond its funding goal.

One year into the five-year program, the public-private partnership has secured $33.2 million of its $50 million funding goal, but that initial goal will pay for less than a third of the demand.

The $10-million-a-year program provided scholarships to roughly 1,500 children last year, but funding constraints meant more than twice that number were rejected. The number of students rejected is expected to grow this year as more families learn about the program.

United Way of Central Indiana, which administers the program, anticipates as many as 7,000 families will apply for the 2016-2017 school year even though it only has money for roughly 1,600 scholarships, organization Vice President Andrew Cullen told The Indianapolis Star.

“Now the question shifts to, will the General Assembly recognize this need and make appropriate budget decisions in the 2017 session?” Cullen said.

The state provides $11 million of the $50 million, with the city planning to fund $20 million and the remaining $20 million coming from a fundraising effort. The money runs out in the 2019-20 school year. Cullen said the United Way plans a big lobbying push for more pre-K funding from the state next year.

Republican Gov. Mike Pence declined last year to apply for as much as $80 million in federal grants for early childhood education, saying he was concerned about the potential of federal requirements being tied to funding that could have hindered Indiana’s program.

Pence has said he’s committed to studying the issue, but that he’ll wait for pilot program results before deciding whether to seek future funding.

The Legislature has launched a study evaluating the program and tracking participants to third grade. The study won’t be done until 2020 for 4-year-olds who started last fall.

The state’s pilot program funds five of Indiana’s 92 counties, including Marion County. The others are Allen, Jackson, Lake and Vanderburgh counties.

 

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