Facebook Twitter
A preschooler in the Reggio program at IPS School 60.

A preschooler in the Reggio program at IPS School 60.

Scott Elliott

Ballard aims to commit matching dollars for preschool

Mayor Greg Ballard will seek to offer about $100,000 for matching grants to boost Indianapolis preschools.

In 2013, lawmakers approved a $2 million matching grant program for preschool, which could provide up to $400,000 to Marion County if an equal amount in public and private dollars are raised. If the city-county council agrees, Ballard would offer about $100,000 in city dollars as part of the local match, Deputy Mayor Jason Kloth said.

This program is separate from a state preschool pilot that was just approved by the legislature and now is waiting for Gov. Mike Pence’s signature. That program could serve up to 4,000 four-year-olds in five counties that will be selected by the Family and Social Services Administration. Depending on how quickly FSSA gets the program designed, it could begin this fall or in 2015.

Between the two programs, Kloth said the city’s goal is to maximize public support for preschool.

“We’re going to provide a match for the state grant so our high quality providers can participate,” he said. “We want every dollar we’d be eligible for in Indianapolis to be in Indianapolis.”

Ballard made expanding preschool one of the primary talking points of his state of the city speech last month. Kloth noted that child poverty in Marion County has doubled since 2000 and the gap between the percent of children in poverty in Indianapolis (32 percent) compared to the rest of the state (22 percent) has also more than doubled in that time.

That’s a problem, Kloth said, because research suggests children who are born into poverty in Indiana are likely to remain in poverty. That has damaging effects not only for the lives of individual children but also for the community, as it raises costs for services, such as social safety net programs, and reduces revenue as a result of less income earned, and thus taxes paid, by adults over their lives.

“We’re trying to build a system where people, irrespective of what neighborhood they are born in, have the ability to climb,” he said.

City officials believe preschool is among the most promising strategies for combating property, Kloth said. Beyond the academic gains the make, there is evidence children who have preschool grow up to be more successful adults.

“It reverses the effect of poverty on children’s lives,” he said. “There is a benefit to the child and society of whole.”

The pilot had been dropped by the legislature on cost concerns but, at Pence’s urging, lawmakers found the money to restore it by allowing the agency to keep up to $10 million Pence had ordered it to cut due to poor revenue projections.

In addition, the bil allows preschool providers or FSSA to match another $5 million in grants or private contributions. The entire program, therefore, could spend $15 million in public and private money on tuition support for children to attend preschools.

As StateImpact Indiana reported earlier this week, no Indiana county has more eligible providers than Marion County with 117. The next closest is Fort Wayne’s Allen County with 70.

To be eligible, preschools must be rated a 3 or 4 on Indiana’s four-step Paths To Quality rating scale.

The program’s income eligibility limit for a family four is $30,289 annually. The amount those families could receive to spend on preschool tuition would range between $2,500 and $6,800 a year depending on income.

 CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the amount Ballard hopes the city will offer in preschool grants.