Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

What The Indianapolis Pre-K Program Means For Other Towns

The Indianapolis City-County council approved a $40 million preschool program for low income students.

Sonia Hooda / Flickr

The Indianapolis City-County council approved a $40 million preschool program for low income students.

The Indianapolis City-County Council voted 19-8 last night in favor of Mayor Greg Ballard’s preschool program, which will give more than 1,300 low income children in Marion County the opportunity to attend preschool. The program will cost an estimated $40 million.

WFYI’s Michelle Johnson explains where the money for the new program will come from:

The money would come from removing 35,000 homes from the Homestead Tax Credit program, reallocating funds for charter school oversight, and interest from the Fiscal Stability Fund.

The program would also leverage about $20 million in private funding from businesses and foundations. About $2 million of that would come from Eli Lilly and Company, which is also leading an effort to raise another $8 million from other corporate donors.

The compromise is smaller than one Mayor Greg Ballard proposed earlier this year, allowing three- and four- year olds to take advantage of the program, and prioritizing the children of poorest families. Under the plan, a family of four with an annual income of just over $30 thousand dollars would get highest priority.

The program wasn’t always poised to be a success, and it seemed the council wouldn’t approve the full $40 million, but last month the council began backing Ballard’s plan.

This support for publicly funded pre-k we’re seeing in Indianapolis isn’t the norm for Indiana communities. Bartholomew County tried to pass a referenda in the November election to fund a pre-k program for low-income kids. It failed for the second time, and pre-k supporters in the area don’t know how to raise the funds. Like those in Indianapolis, supporters of publicly funded programs say investing in pre-k will help reduce a community’s crime, poverty and get more young people on a track toward local jobs.

It seems if Marion County, a place with so many low-income kids in need can get behind a program of this nature, won’t other communities?

But not every community has access to the type of funding Marion County does. Even though Indianapolis has a lot of kids to serve, it also has a lot of resources to tap. Half of the $40 million needed for the program approved last night is coming from private donations, and Eli Lilly and Company not only donated but is helping find other donors.

The current program in Columbus is supported in part by Cummins, but since it’s the only large, private donor like that the county was forced to turn to a referendum to expand.

Gary, like Indianapolis, has a large number of low income kids and was chosen to participate in On My Way Pre-K, the state’s new preschool pilot program. Part of the program requires communities to come up with a 10 percent match in private donations, which is more difficult in Gary.

“We from the very beginning knew that we didn’t have anybody like Lilly Corporation,” Dennis Rittenmeyer, the coordinator for Lake County’s pilot program efforts, said. “[Our local foundations] have ongoing obligations, so to crack that fiscal picture is not easy.”

The first phase of On My Way Pre-K begins in January, and the FSSA has reportedly told representatives in Lake and Allen counties that they will work to lobby the legislature to expand the program past the initial year-long pilot.


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