News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

January 7, 2013

Indianapolis schools to launch preschool program

INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Public Schools is using federal funding to launch a full-day preschool program the district believes will become Indiana’s biggest publicly led effort of its kind.

Officials hope to enroll about 1,400 4-year-olds, about half of the district’s 4-year-olds, this month in the free preschool program set to start this fall.

Superintendent Eugene White told The Indianapolis Star today that the district needs the program to boost the academic skills of students entering kindergarten.

“We’ve been waiting on the Legislature and others to help us get funding for the program, but we have to have this to close the gap in skills many of our students bring with them to kindergarten,” White said.

Indiana is one of just eight states that provide no state aid for preschool programs.

The IPS program will cost about $8 million annually — three-fourths of which will come from federal poverty programs. Some of that money was freed up for the preschool effort after the Legislature approved modest funding last session for full-day kindergarten at Indiana’s public schools.

White has committed to $2 million in administrative cuts to fund the remaining cost of the program, which will employ about 105 IPS staff, including 51 teachers and 51 classroom assistants.

Officials hope to build on the success of the district’s full-day kindergarten program. With full-day kindergarten in place, White said the district now sees about 75 percent of its incoming kindergartners starting first grade with the basic skills they need — up from 50 percent before the program was in place.

When preschool is fully implemented for all of the district’s 4-year-olds, the goal to have more than 95 percent of first-graders ready for school.

Ena Shelley, education dean at Butler University and an early childhood education expert, said the preschool program will be “a great step forward” for IPS and Indianapolis.

“It’s another way to think about how we can close the gap we often see with children who have not had a strong early childhood foundation when they start school and are far behind,” Shelley said.

IPS officials believe more preschool will lead to academic gains among the district’s approximately 30,000 students.

The preschool program was approved in October by the IPS school board, but has been expanded since then to include more sites at more schools and at community organizations and private preschools that are partnering with the district.

The first-year plan now calls for seven IPS school sites and six community partner sites. Some existing classrooms at IPS schools will add space for the program.

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