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Bartholomew not picked for pre-K pilot program

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Four-year-olds in Bartholomew County will not be receiving state-funded scholarships to attend prekindergarten next year.

Gov. Mike Pence on Tuesday announced the five counties selected for a prekindergarten pilot program that would provide scholarships to students from families eligible for financial assistance. The selected counties are Allen, Jackson, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh.

Bartholomew County had been named as one of 18 finalists in early June.

John Quick, superintendent of Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., who has been pushing for funds for prekindergarten for several years, said he was disappointed but not surprised by the decision.

Quick said the area has strong existing prekindergarten programs — including private, public and parochial providers — but in the end, the selection was about demographics and geography.

The state ended up selecting four urban counties and one rural one. Bartholomew County was classified as an urban county and was required to compete with cities such as Indianapolis, Gary, Fort Wayne and Evansville.

According to the state, the selection process was based on a determination of need and the county’s ability and readiness to meet that need.

Bartholomew County had 42.1 percent of students receiving free or reduced lunches in 2012, compared with 65.9 percent in Marion County and 55.3 in Lake County.

A panel of experts in education, business and the nonprofit sector helped the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration select the five counties.

“I think we had a very strong application, a very strong partnership,” Quick said. “It’s mostly a numbers game, and we just didn’t have the urban density of the others that were chosen.”

Kathy Oren, executive director of the Community Education Coalition, said more than a dozen prekindergarten providers participated in preparing a Statement of County Readiness. The purpose of that statement was to show how well different providers are cooperating in a county.

“It was actually a really good exercise,” she said. “It gave us a good picture of the capacity, the quality in our community. We have really strong prekindergarten programs and very strong local support for the needs of children in our community.”

Teresa Heiny, director of elementary education for BCSC, said a lot of good ideas were shared, which will be helpful as the county continues forward with other prekindergarten efforts.

Quick said he was pleased to learn neighboring Jackson County was chosen as the rural county to pilot the program, and the district is happy to help in any way it can.

Each of the five counties chosen was deserving and has been working hard to expand prekindergarten for some time now, Oren said. They will work with the state and FSSA to begin distributing vouchers for full- or half-day prekindergarten in early 2015.

Just because Bartholomew County was not chosen to pilot the program does not mean 4-year-olds will be out of luck.

Marni Lemons, deputy director of communications for FSSA, said the office will continue communicating with counties to ensure the entire state is ready as the state-funded program moves forward and potentially expands.

Quick said he does not think the decision will affect the outcome of the local referendum in the fall election.

The district is seeking an additional 5 cents per $100 assessed valuation, which would generate $1.8 million annually to cover full-time prekindergarten costs for an estimated 450 students a year in Columbus with financial need.

“I think we continue to try to make our case,” Quick said. “I think this illustrates that there’s not sustainable funding at this point for pre-K, and half our students still can’t afford to go without some help.”

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