Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. is planning for a drop in prekindergarten students this fall due to funding constraints. But a year from now, with new monies coming in from the state, the Columbus-based school corporation is expecting the number of 4-year-old students to bounce back.

That’s because Bartholomew was one of 15 new counties added on June 7 to the On My Way Pre-K program, which will take effect a year from now.

On My Way Pre-K, the state’s pilot program, initially helped fund prekindergarten for children from low-income families in five Indiana counties. A second round of funding from the state legislature is adding 15 more counties to the program, including Bartholomew County.

With 15 preschoolers surrounding him, Gov. Eric Holcomb on Monday praised leaders for funding the program expansion before ceremonially signing the bill expanding access to prekindergarten.

The pre-K expansion will receive $22 million in funding each year — $12 million more than the pilot program currently receives. Nearly all the money will go into On My Way Pre-K classrooms. UPSTART, an online pre-K classroom where students learn for 15 minutes five days a week, will receive $1 million.

BCSC will have about 300 4-year-olds in prekindergarten classrooms taught at 12 sites this fall, down about 10 percent from last fall’s enrollment levels.

But the new funding is a course-changer, the local superintendent said.

“We have used every resource we can to provide this program because we see the need,” Roberts said. “We will be aggressive in finding families who have 4-year-olds who want them in preschool to help them apply for the funding, then we will find out how many kids are eligible.”

BSCS has seen two referendum attempts fail over the past five years that would have provided scholarships to an estimated 450 low-income 4-year-olds.

Roberts said he expects the district to receive its state funding for prekindergarten in January, which should strengthen future enrollment starting in fall of 2018.

“It’s gratifying to see our county chosen because it’s reflective of the strength of this community,” Roberts said. “We qualified for that funding because our community banded together and put together a winning application that was able to demonstrate need and ability to carry the program forward.”

Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp. and private prekindergarten programs in Bartholomew County are also eligible to receive the expanded prekindergarten funding.

Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, who co-authored the legislation in 2013 establishing the pilot program, said the legislation will be important to the future of Indiana. On My Way Pre-K launched in 2015 under former Gov. Mike Pence.

Holcomb said expansion will help kids get off to the right start.

“It’s a long journey. You’re going to enjoy it, but it starts now,” he said. “We have the resources — Indiana does — to make sure you’re on the right path.”

TheStatehouseFile.com contributed to this report.

Pre-K program requirements

To qualify for the expanded On My Way Pre-K program, a student’s family income must not exceed 127 percent of the federal poverty limit. For a family of four, the maximum income would be $30,861 a year to be eligible.

Additional eligibility requirements were also included in this year’s legislation, including a measure that requires a parent or guardian to prove that they have a job, are seeking employment or is enrolled in school.

Pull Quote

“We qualified for that funding because our community banded together and put together a winning application that was able to demonstrate need and ability to carry the program forward.”

— Jim Roberts, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. superintendent