City-County Council approves $40 million Pre-K program

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Dec. 1, 2014) - After months of discussions, City-County councilors voted Monday to approve a new preschool program for low-income families. Council members voted 19-8 in support of the proposal.

The $40 million program will get half of its funding for the city. The other half will come from corporate and philanthropic donations. They'll need to vote on funding at another meeting, expected in early 2015.

The program could send anywhere from 700 to 1,200 kids to preschool. Qualifying children will be picked based upon need. The council set a standard with a household income of up to 127% of the federal poverty level.

A group of supporters gathered ahead of the vote at a rally, wearing t-shirts that said, "Indy loves Pre-K."

"We can do better for our children. Let’s fund preschool," parent and Stand for Children employee Ashley Thomas said.

Thomas, a mother of three, chose not to send her eldest son to school early because she didn't qualify for federal funding and couldn't afford it.

"It was one of my biggest regrets in life," Thomas said.

There are debates over the full impact of Pre-K schooling, but some studies suggest it lowers dropout rates and keeps kids from falling into learning gaps often seen in elementary school.

Mayor Greg Ballard originally proposed the program in July, arguing it would help to cut down on the city's growing crime rate.

"I think it sends the message that they’re ready to do it," Ballard said of  the council's vote.

The Eli Lilly and Company Foundation previously pledged to raise $10 million in support of the effort. According to Ballard's office, the foundation has raised more than half and other donors were waiting on council approval.

"To put her in a classroom environment and teach her some stability and teach her things that I might not be doing or her sister is not doing or even at her childcare facility that she attends would be amazing for me," said Angel Hicks, a single mom with a 3-year-old daughter.

Ballard issued the following statement:

“The City of Indianapolis today took a major step toward becoming a place where all children have the tools to succeed. Tonight’s bipartisan approval of a preschool plan I first proposed in July will help prepare many Indy children for a brighter economic future and ultimately make Indy a safer city by addressing the root causes of poverty and violence in our community."

"I want to acknowledge the leadership shown by the Councillors who voted tonight in favor of helping Indy’s neediest children and the steadfast support from Eli Lilly and our many other corporate and philanthropic partners that helped us reach this point.”