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Bartholomew finalist for state pre-K pilot program

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Bartholomew County has been named one of 18 finalists for a five-county prekindergarten pilot program funded by the state.

The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration examined more than a dozen measures of suitability for each county, including the estimated number of children not currently receiving early learning services, the number of eligible providers and the percentage of children living in poverty.

Neighboring Jackson County has also been named a pre-qualified finalist.

Kathy Oren, executive director of the Community Education Coalition, said the news confirms what she already knew about Bartholomew County — there are qualified programs and there is demonstrated need.

“This is a huge opportunity to serve more students,” she said. “I believe our chances are strong to be chosen.”

The pilot program will provide about 1,500 half- or full-day vouchers statewide for children to attend a qualified program — whether it be a public school, or a private or parochial provider.

The scholarships would be worth between $2,500 and $6,800 per student, and eligible families can make up to 127 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $30,000 a year for a family of four.

Interested parties from Bartholomew County — which could include representatives from Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. and other prekindergarten providers — will submit a written Statement of County Readiness by June 30.

Representatives will need to demonstrate Bartholomew County providers are ready and can provide a financial match. The state is distributing $10 million among the five counties, and an additional

$5 million is expected to come from matching funds.

A panel of experts will then review and score those statements to select the five pilot counties, expected to be announced by the end of July.

FSSA announced Monday that the funds will not be ready by this fall as originally anticipated, but vouchers could be distributed as early as January 2015 with full implementation that summer.

BCSC Superintendent John Quick said being one of 18 is better than being one of 92.

“We feel like we’ve been a leader for prekindergarten for the state conversation, and to be recognized is a good step,” he said. “We look forward to competing to be one of the five counties.”

The district is also hoping taxpayers will step in to fund prekindergarten for an estimated 450 local students a year whose families cannot afford it. The referendum to appear on the November ballot will ask for an increase of up to 5 cents per $100 assessed valuation on city property taxes.

Oren said if Bartholomew County is chosen, taxpayers will likely ask, “Why should I vote for this if the state is funding this?”

If the referendum passes and Bartholomew County is selected as a pilot in the state program, the district could opt not to raise the tax rate, Quick said.

It has not yet been determined how long the state pilot program would run, but approving the local referendum would give the district the option to assess implementing the higher tax rate each year, the superintendent said.

“The pilot is not permanent,” Oren said. “But we’d like to see that happen. We’d like to see the state take over more and more funding.”

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