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Posted on Wed. Jul. 23, 2014 - 12:30 am EDT

County, 4 others get pilot pre-K run

INDIANAPOLIS — The United Way of Allen County will lead a communitywide pre-kindergarten effort after Gov. Mike Pence announced Tuesday that Allen was among five counties tapped for the early-learning pilot program.

Lake, Vanderburgh, Marion and Jackson counties also were chosen by the Family and Social Services Administration. Kosciusko and Noble counties applied but were not chosen.

Pence said the counties were chosen largely based on need and existing capacity.

“Every Indiana child deserves to start kindergarten ready to learn and to begin a lifetime of learning,” Pence said. “The state looks forward to partnering with these counties and working to ensure that these resources are made available to assist some of our most vulnerable children early next year.”

The Allen County pilot is expected to serve between 240 and 440 4-year-old children by July 2015. FSSA identified 1,473 unserved, low-income children who would be eligible for the program in the county.

In all, as many as 2,015 children could be served in the five counties based on estimates provided in the applications.

“With so much work already being done in our community by us, our partner agencies and other local groups for early childhood education, pursuing this preschool pilot program grant was a natural conclusion,” said Todd Stephenson, president and CEO of United Way of Allen County. “Allen County is uniquely qualified to take full advantage of these dollars to not only help children prepare for kindergarten, but to also prepare them for a better life.”

There are 73 providers currently eligible for the pilot in Allen County. They have either a Level 3 or 4 Paths to Quality rating, which is a voluntary child care quality rating and improvement system.

The Allen County application estimates more than 20 other providers will receive accreditation by July 2015.

The Allen plan will begin with existing providers filling vacancies as soon as January, followed by a Head Start Summer Program and perhaps a summer public preschool launch in June 2015. The plan calls for a substantial school-based expansion in August 2015.

“Allen County is uniquely positioned to succeed in this effort. The Paths to Quality system was invented here, and Allen County has a higher percentage of Level 3 and 4 providers than any county in the state,” the application said.

Other Allen County entities involved in the effort include the Early Childhood Alliance, the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, East Allen County Schools, Fort Wayne Community Schools, Community Action of Northeast Indiana, Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry and PNC.

In addition to preparing the application, United Way of Allen County secured $100,000 in matching funds. United Way and United Way’s Women United affinity group committed $50,000 with another $50,000 pledged from PNC’s Grow Up Great program.

These funds were secured with the expectation of an additional $700,000 to $900,000 in matching funds being contributed if Allen County was selected for the pilot program, according to a news release.

A large portion of the matching funds could come from the city of Fort Wayne. Mayor Tom Henry said he believes supporting the preschool pilot fits the intent of the city’s Legacy Fund to provide investment and leverage resources that will transform the community.

Henry committed to asking City Council to approve up to $500,000 to be spent in Allen County. Under the law passed by lawmakers this year, the FSSA will create and run the program using up to $10 million in state dollars.

Private donations totaling $1 million to $5 million are also required. That is why each county has to commit to raising matching funds.

Children in homes with income up to 127 percent of the federal poverty level – or about $30,000 for a family of four – would be eligible for pre-kindergarten grants of $2,500 to $6,800 per student.

The FSSA still has to create a longitudinal study for students; monitor the design and implementation of a new kindergarten readiness assessment and the program accountability system; establish guidelines and activation of fundraising activities; and make modifications to interagency IT and staffing infrastructure to support the pilot program.

FSSA said last month the expected full launch is in July 2015, though Pence is pushing for an earlier timeline. Tuesday’s announcement said “the program remains on track to launch in early 2015.”

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