When Gov. Mike Pence signed On My Way Pre-K, the state’s first preschool pilot program, into law ast year, the goal was to get more low-income children enrolled in high quality preschool programs to help their overall education over time. But another result of creating a program like this means more high-quality programming will emerge, and that’s exactly what the state is seeing happen.
The five counties participating in the pilot program are seeing more providers move into Level 3 or 4 on the state’s voluntary Paths to QUALITY ranking system. This doesn’t surprise Melanie Brizzi, head of early learning for the state’s Family and Social Services Administration. Brizzi says her office has seen a steady increase of providers trying to get on the ranking system since it was created in 2009, but the creation of the pilot program changed that slightly.
“We’re always seeing growth, this has just accelerated that growth,” Brizzi says.
There are four levels on the Paths to QUALITY system, and for a preschool provider to qualify for On My Way Pre-K or a similar program in Indianapolis run through the mayor’s office, the provider must be a Level 3 or 4, meaning either that they have a planned curriculum for students or are nationally accredited. Getting up to that level involves site visits from the state over time.
But because of the new programs catering to low-income three- and four-year olds, the FSSA is allowing providers in these counties to expedite the process to get to at least a Level 3 status so they can serve as many students as possible.
One of those centers is a brand new preschool set to open in August on the east side of Indianapolis, run through Early Learning Indiana. Ted Maple heads the group and says without this expedited process to get on Paths to QUALITY, the center would not be able to serve up to 80 kids under the two programs.
“They’re providing a provisional Level 3 [status] for the On My Way Pre-K and the Indy Preschool program so that we can build enough capacity in the community,” Maple says. “There’s only about 50 eligible programs right now in Marion County – we need way more than that to serve the 1,300 children.”
Even though On My Way Pre-K is a pilot program with no sustainable funding, Brizzi says the process is good for preschool in the state even if the pilot doesn’t continue.
“What makes that difference there is the information getting out to parents, so parents know how to select a high quality program,” Brizzi says. “So the sustainability isn’t just from the funding, it’s from the family and community awareness, recognizing all children deserve thee high quality environments.”