Elkhart County in the running to get state funding for preschool

Indiana will spend $10 million this year on getting more children into preschool. But not every Indiana county is getting funding.

Posted on July 10, 2014 at 8:53 p.m.

Five Indiana counties are getting pre-K funding from the state this year, and Elkhart County could be one of them. 

Indiana earmarked $10 million to go to five counties that need pre-K support the most. Each of the five yet-to-be-selected counties will receive $2 million and are responsible to come up with between at least 10 percent of that in matching funds. (Editor’s note - The initial version of this story indicated that the match needed was higher than this. We regret the error.)

Elkhart County is one of 18 counties in the running for the money, but a decision won’t be made until the end of July.

The money will provide preschool vouchers for children in families making an annual income that’s 127 percent of the federal poverty level or less. 

This summer, Horizon Education Alliance is training 20 preschool classrooms in Elkhart County in a learning method called Tools of the Mind

They are dedicating $100,000 to train preschool teachers in this method, which is focused on teaching children self-regulation through play.

"Hopefully, using Tools of the Mind will help more preschool classrooms qualify for this grant from the state," Brian Wiebe, executive director of HEA, said. 

Preschools eligible to accept children who qualify for the state’s vouchers must be using a planned curriculum that guides child development and school readiness. 

Horizon Education Alliance (HEA), a nonprofit organization with a focus on improving Elkhart County education, is leading the charge in getting the county qualified for this grant money.

"Winning one of Indiana’s five Early Learning grants would be great for our county," HEA director Brian Wiebe said. "It would be a big win for our young children as we’d have approximately 500 additional spots to offer 4-year-olds a year from now."

If Elkhart County does get the money, eligible families will get the preschool vouchers from Indiana’s Family and Social Services Administration, the entity administering the pre-K pilot program. 

HEA points out Head Start, a preschool option for local low-income families, consistently has a waiting list of about 400 Elkhart County children they can’t serve. 

The goal with these new vouchers is to get children into preschool who wouldn’t be going otherwise — the vouchers won’t go to children who are already enrolled in preschool.

This recent effort to win state money for Elkhart County preschool-aged children is just one of several projects HEA is spearheading, with the support of seven public school districts and other education and nonprofit groups in the county.

Jim Siegmann, HEA ambassador, said a large part of what HEA does is arrange collaboration and conversations between education groups in the county.

Some of these groups, he noted, have just been too busy to collaborate regularly before. With HEA’s help, the hope is that Elkhart County will be able to put forth stronger, more unified efforts in improving education for children and adults. 

Siegmann added HEA was formed with the idea that "if there would be one thing that would increase the quality of life in Elkhart County, it would be education."

Follow reporter Lydia Sheaks on Twitter at @LydiaSheaks

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