Indiana is expanding its prekindergarten program to several additional highly populated areas in the state, bringing the total number of counties offering pre-K to 20.
Since 2015, Indiana has supported On My Way Pre-K for about 1,600 children from low-income families who live in the counties that include Evansville (Vanderburgh County), Fort Wayne (Allen County), Gary (Lake County), and Indianapolis (Marion County.) Rural Jackson County is also a participant.
On Wednesday, Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, announced the 15 additional counties that will offer the program. They are St. Joseph (South Bend), Tippecanoe (Lafayette), Monroe (Bloomington), Vigo (Terre Haute), Bartholomew (Columbus), DeKalb (Auburn), Delaware (Muncie), Elkhart (Elkhart), Floyd (New Albany), Grant (Marion), Harrison (Corydon), Howard (Kokomo), Kosciusko (Warsaw), Madison (Anderson) and Marshall (Plymouth).
A limited number of seats may be available for children in January, but the program will be fully operational for the 2018-19 school year.
The state budget, which was approved back in April, included $22 million for prekindergarten, including $1 million for an online preschool program called UPSTART that is in wide use in Utah, and has been piloted in other areas across the country. The Indiana program operates like a voucher, providing money to parents who can then enroll their children with registered providers that meet certain quality standards.
Prekindergarten was a priority of former governor and now U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who made a personal appeal to lawmakers in 2014 to start an early-childhood education program. Holcomb, who was Pence’s lieutenant governor, has continued that trend. During his State of the State address, Holcomb made a pitch to double the state’s funding for prekindergarten, though lawmakers ultimately approved a smaller amount. Such an investment is part of his “transformation policies” to improve the state, he said.
“Our most vulnerable children deserve a fair start, too,” he said during the speech.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.