Twelve urban and six rural counties selected as finalists for an Indiana preschool pilot program have until the end of the month to make their cases, the state announced Wednesday.
The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration said the counties are Allen (home to Fort Wayne), Bartholomew (Columbus), Delaware (Muncie), Elkhart (Elkhart), Grant (Marion), Howard (Kokomo), Jackson (Seymour), Kosciusko (Warsaw), Lake (Gary), Lawrence (Bedford), Madison (Anderson), Marion (Indianapolis), Noble (Kendallville), St. Joseph (South Bend), Tippecanoe (Lafayette), Vanderburgh (Evansville), Vigo (Terre Haute) and Wayne (Richmond).
The pilot program created by the General Assembly this year provides preschool funding for low-income 4-year-olds in five counties. Families earning up to 127 percent of the federal poverty level — a little less than $30,000 for a family of four — would qualify.
To narrow the field to the five pilot counties, FSSA said counties have until June 30 to submit statements on their ability to help meet a financial match, participation of current and new providers, community and family engagement, and their readiness to launch the program in January.
The $10 million pilot program, a scaled-down version of one of Gov. Mike Pence's top legislative priorities, is being funded from FSSA's budget and is seeking up to $5 million in private funds to expand the program to additional students.
The program will be delivered by public and private schools and certain child care centers, FSSA said. The agency said it is still working out the structure of the program.
"We're on track and working to design a program that will be successful and will help the children who participate in it be successful as well," FSSA Secretary Debra Minot said in a news release.
FSSA said the 18 counties chosen as finalists represent all geographic regions of the state and have about 17,000 eligible 4-year-olds who are not currently going to preschool. The agency and an advisory group chose them on the basis of factors including the estimated number of children not currently going to preschool, the number of eligible providers, and the percentage of children living in poverty.
The advisory group included early education experts from Ball State University, Indiana University, the University of Notre Dame, the Indiana Department of Education and outside groups.