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More families to qualify for pre-K grants

Students in a pre-K classroom in Indiana sort through materials. (WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A preschool director on Thursday said expanding Indiana’s preschool grant program will give more children the tools to get out of poverty.

Roughly 90% of the children who attend St. Mary’s Early Childhood Center in Indianapolis come from impoverished households, according to interim executive director Mary McCoy. About 11% attend using an On My Way Pre-K grant.

McCoy said some of the children’s parents have turned down opportunities for overtime pay or promotion because they could not afford pre-K instruction if they lose eligibility for those grants.

“Even though they’re in that middle-income group, they still have challenges providing that high-quality preschool for their students,” McCoy said. “Our goal is to close that gap when it comes to vocabulary, reading, and performing in the classroom.”

Beginning July 1, the income limit for families who wish to apply for On My Way Pre-K will increase from 127 percent of the federal poverty line to 150 percent. That’s a rise from $38,100 per year for a family of four to $45,000. The change was part of the budget deal state lawmakers agreed on at the end of April.

Officials with the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration said the expansion of On My Way Pre-K and a federal program, the Child Care and Development Fund, will make roughly 11,000 more Indiana children eligible for some kind of child care assistance, though they could not immediately break out how many were specifically affected by the preschool program. An FSSA spokesperson said families may apply at any time and, if they fall between the old and new income limits, they will become eligible on July 1.

McCoy said quality pre-K instruction is one of the best ways to help a child get out of poverty. The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration’s review of the On My Way Pre-K program found children enrolled in the program showed better math and English proficiency in grades 3 and 4 than their peers.

A long-term study of pre-K students in Oklahoma conducted by Georgetown University found students who attended some kind of preschool program were 12 percent more likely to enroll in college. Evidence also suggests pre-K alumni are more likely to register to vote and cast ballots in elections.

According to the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, more than 3,200 students attend preschool statewide using the On My Way Pre-K program. About a third of that number lives in Marion County. She said she is already working on signing up parents for next year.

McCoy said while she won’t know how many more parents will apply for grants until students begin enrolling for the next school year, she knows plenty will take advantage of the program.

“There is such a need out there for early learning in our city,” she said.

The new eligibility rule goes into effect on July 1, when the spending levels authorized by the new state budget become effective. Parents will still need to submit application forms through the FSSA website.