Early Childhood

State preschool pilot will launch in January, Pence says

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Gov. Mike Pence greets preschoolers on a visit to Shepherd Community Center last year.

A new state preschool pilot program in Marion County should get off the ground in January, although it might start out by serving a small number of students.

Gov. Mike Pence hailed the pilot, which he said would launch in January in four of the five counties that were selected to begin offering state aid to pay preschool tuition for poor children, at a day-long conference for state and and local officials to plan the program.

Pence praised lawmakers in both parties for ultimately supporting a preschool bill that was one of his top legislative priorities after a long and arduous debate in the legislature earlier this year. At one point, the bill appeared dead, but Pence worked with legislative leaders to revive it.

When students begin receiving aid next year, it will mark the first time in Indiana history the state has directly supported preschool tuition, removing Indiana from a list of just nine states that have yet to fund preschool.

“There is work to be done today,” he said proudly. “We’ve brought together people with vast experience in this area.”

The $10 million program allows for another $5 million in grants or private contributions. The entire program, therefore, could spend $15 million in public and private money on tuition support for children to attend preschools.

The bill established an income eligibility limit for a family of four to $30,289 annually. For families, tuition aid would range between $2,500 and $6,800 a year depending on income. The pilot could serve as many as 4,000 four year olds in the five counties. It is only limited by budget. There is no cap on the number of participants.

“There is a great deal of urgency I have to get these dollars out first and foremost to help the kids who need them,” Pence said.

Pence added that he did not expect to lead an effort to expand the program in the next two-year budget, which lawmakers will begin crafting in January, to allow time for the pilot program to be put in place and for an evaluation of it effectiveness to be undertaken.

“I want to be faithful to the nature of this program,” he said. “This is a pilot program. This was a heavy lift to get the first ever funding for pre-K education through the General Assembly. the agreement was it would be a pilot and we will take our time.”

Pence also declined comment on a move by Democrats on the Indianapolis City-County Council to block a separate $50 million preschool expansion proposal offered by his fellow Republican, Mayor Greg Ballard. Among the reasons the Democrats cited for shelving any city-led preschool program until at least 2016 was the opportunity for poor children to enroll instead in the state pilot program.

“I wouldn’t want to comment on what local government leaders are deciding in any city in Indiana,” Pence said.

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.

Enter to win

Denver organization to launch national prize for early childhood innovation

PHOTO: Ann Schimke

A Denver-based investment group will soon launch a national contest meant to help scale up great ideas in the early childhood field — specifically efforts focused on children birth to 3 years old.

Gary Community Investments announced its Early Childhood Innovation Prize on Wednesday morning at a conference in San Francisco. It’s sort of like the television show “Shark Tank,” but without the TV cameras, celebrity judges and nail-biting live pitch.

The contest will divvy up $1 million in prize money to at least three winners, one at the beginning stages of concept development, one at a mid-level stage and one at an advanced stage. Gary officials say there could be more than one winner in each category.

The contest will officially launch Oct. 25, with submissions due Feb. 15 and winners announced in May. (Gary Community Investments, through the Piton Foundation, is a Chalkbeat funder.)

Officials at Gary Community Investments, founded by oilman Sam Gary, say the contest will help the organization focus on finding solutions that address trouble spots in the early childhood arena.

The birth-to-3 zone is one such spot. While it’s an especially critical time for children because of the amount of brain development that occurs during that time, it’s often overshadowed by efforts targeting 4- or 5-year-olds.

Steffanie Clothier, Gary’s child development investment director, said leaders there decided on a monetary challenge after talking with a number of other organizations that offer prizes for innovative ideas or projects.

One foundation they consulted described lackluster responses to routine grant programs, but lots of enthusiasm for contests with financial stakes, she said.

“There’s some galvanizing opportunity to a prize,” she said.

But Gary’s new prize isn’t solely about giving away money to create or expand promising programs. It will also include an online networking platform meant to connect applicants with mentors, partners or investors.

“We’re trying to figure out how to make it not just about the winners,” Clothier said.

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