Grants available for prekindergarten

Low-income families in Jackson County can now apply for grants to send their children to preschool this fall through the state-funded On My Way Pre-K program.

The Indiana Office of Early Childhood and Out-of-School Learning is accepting applications from families in the five pilot counties through April 30. Those counties are Jackson, Allen, Lake, Vanderburgh and Marion.

Only those families that have an income below 127 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible to participate. That means a family of four cannot have an annual income exceeding $30,080.70 to qualify.

Also, children must be 4 years old by Aug. 1.

Families that receive grants will then choose from any of the approved On My Way Pre-K programs available in the area.

The state has enrolled a total of 128 providers so far.

Currently, there are only two local preschool providers on that list — Head Start and Terri’s Playhouse, both in Seymour.

Dan Hodge, director of the Jackson County Education Coalition, said that number, however, should grow to around 10 providers this summer, when preschools begin registering students.

Approved pre-K programs may be located in a public or private school, licensed child care center, licensed home or registered ministry as long as it meets quality requirements and is registered as an On My Way Pre-K provider.

To be qualified to accept On My Way Pre-K students, preschool providers must be rated Level 3 or 4 by the state’s voluntary Paths to QUALITY rating and improvement program through the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration or be accredited by an approved national or regional accrediting body.

“There’s a lot of paperwork they have to get filled out and turned in so the state can approve it, and that’s what we’re working on right now,” Hodge said. “We are working with Crothersville, Medora and Seymour public schools along with several faith-based providers to get them qualified.”

Families may choose from full-day or half-day programs and programs that end with the regular school year or those that continue through the summer.

Although the deadline for families to apply for a grant is April 30, that’s not the deadline to have a child enrolled in preschool for the 2015-16 school year, Hodge said.

If more families qualify than there are grants available, a lottery will be conducted at the beginning of May. But Hodge doesn’t believe that will be the case here.

“The idea is we’re looking to match enough providers with the number of kids we have,” he said.

He expects to have around 100 to 125 students start preschool in the fall using the grant funding. That’s about half of the 255 children the FSSA has designated in Jackson County who are eligible and not currently enrolled in preschool.

The pilot program is expected to serve more than 2,000 children from low-income families in the five counties.

There are currently 400 children already attending preschool through On My Way Pre-K grants in Allen, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh counties because those communities chose to launch the program in January.

State funding for the pilot program was approved by the Indiana General Assembly in 2014.

Hodge said he is working to get the word out to parents about the opportunity by getting them signed up when they are registering students for preschool.

“Crothersville did it last week and had 27 or 28 people sign up for their preschool,” he said. “Probably half of them could qualify for On My Way Pre-K funding.”

He also plans to have information about the program at the upcoming Kids Fest event in April at Seymour High School.

“This is just one more opportunity for us to give a great educational foundation to kids that may not have had it before,” Hodge said.

At a glance

Online applications are available at https://prek.carefinderindiana.org/StateLottery.

A printable form also is available at in.gov/fssa/files/Jackson_Co._Lottery_app_8-15.pdf.

For information, visit onmywayprek.org or learningwithicie.com.

Those needing help finding an approved pre-K program can call 1-800-299-1627 for assistance from an early-learning referral specialist.

Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.