Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard unveiled a new initiative Wednesday that will fund preschool for children from low-income families, as well as boost the quality of local providers.
Ballard introduced the five-year program as part of a new plan to curb violence in the city. He said efforts to fight crime start with “prevention,” making sure at-risk kids have access to quality early childhood education programs.
“We, as society, can no longer keep doing the same things over and over again and expect different results,” Ballard said in a statement. “The institutions that support the family have not kept up with changes in family structure and the culture. And the crime that cities across America are experiencing today is a direct result of it.”
Ballard argues that high-quality early preschool not only makes the city safer, but also improves academic, socioeconomic, behavioral and health outcomes for children living in poverty.
The mayor’s plan calls for the city of Indianapolis to invest $25 million in tax dollars over the next five years, coordinated through the United Way of Central Indiana. Here’s how J.K. Wall of the Indiana Business Journal explains it:
Ballard’s preschool plan would ask the United Way to create two new grant programs. The first would be a scholarship program for 4-year-olds living in families with incomes equal to or less than $44,123 per year.
That would cover about 8,000 of the 14,000 4-year-olds in Marion County, according to Indiana Family and Social Services Administration.
Those scholarships could be used at preschool providers that have been nationally accredited or which score at levels 3 and 4 by Paths to Quality, a rating service for preschool and childcare providers in Indiana.
However, only 15 percent of early education providers in Indiana meet those thresholds, according to Ballard’s staff.
So United Way will also offer grants to preschool providers to help them boost their quality above the threshold. Separately from the Ballard plan, the United Way has been working in recent years to improve the quality of preschool providers.
The Ballard administration won’t dictate how United Way apportions the money between those two grant programs. However, as an example, the city imagines that $40 million could go toward scholarships and $10 million to grants to preschool providers.
To pay for the scholarship program specifically, the mayor wants to eliminate the local homestead tax credit, which would cost the average homeowner about $22 per year.
Combined with other state, federal, and private investments, an estimated $50 million will go toward early childhood education in the city by 2020. Ballard expects that will pay for about 1,300 kids who qualify for free or reduced lunch to attend preschool each year.
Scholarships could become available to students as early as the fall of 2015.
Ballard’s initiative is similar to, but separate from the state’s new pre-k pilot program. Marion County was one of the five counties selected to participate in that program, which is also scheduled to launch during the 2015-16 school year.
Another education component of the mayor’s plan: a study to better understand factors that push kids out of school: expulsion, suspension, and dropouts. The proposal also includes an earlier curfew for teens on the weekends, harsher punishment for gun offenders and adding 280 police officers to the city’s force by 2018.
Ballard plans to present his proposal to the City-County Council on August 18.