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18 Counties Chosen As Finalists For Pre-K Pilot Program

5 counties to be chosen; they have until June 30 to apply

18 counties are finalists to be the five who will offer the state's first pre-kindergarten pilot program.

Allen, Bartholomew, Delaware, Elkhart, Grant, Howard, Jackson, Kosciusko, Lake, Lawrence, Madison, Marion, Noble, St. Joseph, Tippecanoe, Vanderburgh, Vigo and Wayne were the counties named as finalists by the Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA), which will oversee the pre-K program at Wednesday's State Board of Education Meeting. They were chosen by an advisory committee, "who collected data on what we know about early learning in the counties as it is right now," said Melanie Brizzi, Director of the FSSA's Office of Early Childhood and Out-Of-School Time Learning. "We wanted to see the counties' capacity with eligible programs as well as looking at the number of un-served children in families living below 127-percent of the federal poverty level," which is what the state's program will be limited to. That's $30,289 annually for a family of four.

The counties have until June 30th to apply for the program. "We want to hear from the communities their past commitment to early education, what sort of infrastructure do they have within the county," Brizzi said, "as well as what sort of services are they already providing to low income families." The counties will also have to provide some money, as a local match of between 10 and 50-percent is required to receive part of the $10 million the state made available when the General Assembly approved the pre-K program in this year's session. "We're not specifically saying you have to come to the table with 'x' amount of dollars. But what we'd like to know is their ability within the county to raise those funds."

Brizzi says FSSA also wants to know whether counties could be ready to offer pre-K classes by January of next year, but that also isn't a requirement. "If the counties aren't ready at that point and can't demonstrate compliance with the statute, or we just feel like they aren't ready, then our official start date is July of 2015." Once the program begins, tuition help for students will range from $2,500 to $6,800 a year depending on family income.

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