More than 60 area students will receive free prekindergarten tuition next year after two organizations were awarded state grants that will be matched with local money.
Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. will receive $170,075 from the state Bureau of Child Care to serve 50 students at Busy Bees Academy.
Children Inc. was awarded $36,850 to add a class of 11 students.
“This is allowing us to help those families who otherwise might not consider prekindergarten,” said Brenda Flanagan, executive director of Children Inc. “Prekindergarten is the new kindergarten. We see how important it is.”
The grants, coming from 2013 legislation that established $2 million to be available for two years, must be used to expand high-quality early education programs for 4-year-olds at 100 percent of the poverty level or below.
A total of $1,457,733.50 in state funds, in addition to another $1,539,859.50 in matching funds, have been distributed to 30 organizations throughout the state.
They’re just another piece in a county — and, on a larger scale, a national — push for more accessible prekindergarten education.
The school district is seeking $1.8 million in taxpayer money through a November ballot question.
How to enroll
ADDRESS: 825 Washington St.
DIRECTOR: Brenda Flanagan
Busy Bees Academy
ADDRESS: 1209 Sycamore St.
DIRECTOR: Cathne Holliday
Additionally, public and private prekindergarten providers in the area are hoping Bartholomew County is selected as one of five counties for a small-scale pilot program that will provide about 1,500 half- or full-day tuition vouchers statewide.
But this first round of grants is a start and an exciting one at that, said Busy Bees Academy Director Cathne Holliday.
Busy Bees was offered the maximum amount of grant money offered by the state, and Holliday said that’s a testament to the quality of the programming.
“The school has established a name for itself throughout the state,” she said. “Even the governor (Gov. Mike Pence) uses the Busy Bee name when he’s talking about early childhood education.”
The Community Education Coalition had agreed to match up to $402,000, and BCSC requested funding for 120 students, but the state limited requests to 50 students per applicant.
Holliday said the school is still accepting applications for the next school year.
If more than 50 students apply for the weeklong full-day program through the grant, a lottery system will be implemented.
Children Inc., with $40,000 in matching funds coming from the United Way of Bartholomew County, also is enrolling for the new class of 11 students.
Flanagan said the program is tested in the community and has received the top ranking in the Paths to Quality ranking system and National Early Childhood Program Accreditation.
The school also has offered vouchers and a sliding fee scale through United Way funding for many years, Flanagan said.
“There is a broad cross-section of children learning and sharing and interacting here,” she said. “We can now help a more diverse background of families.”
Pilot voucher program
Bartholomew County is vying for a spot in Indiana’s first small-scale prekindergarten pilot program, which will provide 4-year-olds from low-income families in five still-to-be-determined counties with scholarships worth anywhere between $2,500 and $6,800 per student.
The pilot program will provide about 1,500 half- or full-day vouchers statewide for children to attend a qualified public or private program.
Educators at local prekindergarten programs are hopeful Bartholomew County will be considered.
Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. is hoping taxpayers will fund prekindergarten in the future.
The ballot question: “For the seven years immediately following the holding of the referendum, shall the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation impose a property tax rate that does not exceed five cents ($0.05) on each one hundred dollars ($100) of assessed valuation and that is in addition to all other property tax levels imposed by the school corporation for funding Pre-Kindergarten for four-year-olds on lunch assistance?”
The tax rate increase would generate $1.8 million annually to pay for full-time prekindergarten for the estimated 450 students a year who can’t afford it.