More than 5,000 applications have poured in for the new Indianapolis Preschool Scholarship Program, which has funding for only about 1,300 students, the city announced Wednesday morning.
Program administrator United Way of Central Indiana will conduct a lottery in the next few weeks to decide which of the applicants will receive scholarships for the 2015-16 year.
Of those applications, 4,967 were found to be eligible, the city said, meaning the applicants came from households with incomes below 185 percent of the federal poverty level.
First priority, however, will be given to applicants from families with incomes below 127 percent of the poverty level, or $30,290 annually for a family of four. The city said 4,448 applications were received from that group.
Applications were fairly evenly split between 3-year-old and 4-year-old students.
“There is overwhelming demand among families that are living in poverty for access to the best preschool option available to their children,” said Jason Kloth, the city’s deputy mayor for education, said in a written statement.
Families that receive grants will choose from a number of Marion County preschool programs that have been deemed "high-quality." To qualify, programs must be ranked at level 3 or level 4 in the Paths to Quality system or accredited by an approved national or regional accrediting body. Almost 50 preschool providers are already enrolled.
Those providers can be located in public or private schools or licensed child care centers.
“What’s been fascinating is seeing school districts and non-profit providers expand their programs,” Kloth said, mentioning efforts by Indianapolis Public Schools, as well as the school districts in Perry and Decatur townships, to improve or expand their preschool programs. “When there is adequate demand and financial resources, the supply will be built to meet that demand. And that’s exactly what I think is happening here.”
The City-County Council approved $4.2 million in funding for the preschool program in early March. Mayor Greg Ballard, who first proposed the program last summer, signed an ordinance approving its basic framework in December.
“It’s encouraging to see such a positive response to the first round of applications, and it tells me we need to keep working to grow the capacity of this program,” Ballard said Wednesday in a written statement.
The city’s investment is estimated at $20 million over five years. Another $20 million is expected to be raised by corporate and philanthropic donors.