More than 400 local families are getting help covering the cost to send one or more children to preschool.
This month, 448 Johnson County children are receiving vouchers, paid for with federal dollars and managed by the state, that can help cover some or all of the cost of preschool. That number is up from 390 children last month, and 359 children in August, according to data from the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration.
The vouchers are accepted by about two-thirds of the nearly 70 preschools in Johnson County, and since January 150 families have asked the central Indiana agency Child Care Answers for help finding preschools that accept the vouchers, have sliding fee scales or offer other discounts.
That’s down from nearly 200 families who needed help finding affordable preschool for their children between January and October in 2012, director of programing Mindy Bennett said. Child Care Answers is a child care resource and referral agency funded through the United Way and other grants that tracks and provides training for preschool programs.
Schools and other organizations also are trying to find ways to provide more affordable preschool options because of concerns about whether students are prepared for kindergarten.
Students need to at least know the alphabet, certain sight words and be able to count to succeed in kindergarten.
But during the 2011-12 school year at least 60 percent of Franklin schools’ incoming kindergartners already were behind on their first day of school. This school year about 36 percent of Clark-Pleasant schools’ incoming kindergartners were behind.
Franklin partnered with the Johnson County Learning Centers last year to open a preschool at Webb Elementary with 20 openings for students from low-income families. This year Clark-Pleasant opened a preschool with openings for about 12 families.
Organizations, including a Center Grove area church, are trying to create more preschools with lower costs that more families can afford. Bennett wants additional preschools to be created in the county, especially south of Franklin where there aren’t as many options for families, she said.
Last school year East Side Elementary opened a preschool, which has about 40 students enrolled with another 10 to 15 on a waiting list, and Bennett has few other programs she can refer parents to.
Child Care Answers offers free training to anyone interested in opening a preschool, which includes information on how to open a new business as well as the different certifications needed, and Bennett is hoping that could encourage more people to consider starting a new program, she said.
Mount Pleasant Christian Church wants to start an additional preschool by next year, with a low cost for families — possibly just $15 to $20 for books.
“There are so many children who come into kindergarten or first grade, never having had a preschool experience. And those are the children that are behind, and holding everyone back because the teacher has to teach at that level, as well as keep the other children busy,” Mount Pleasant preschool director Rea Gray said.
Earlier this year Gray met with elementary school principals from Center Grove schools to see how Mount Pleasant could change its lessons to ensure students were better prepared for reading lessons before kindergarten.
She heard stories about children who were unprepared for kindergarten, and she wants to increase the number of area children who are ready to learn.
In the next month or so, Gray wants to contact landlords of different rental facilities to see if the church can offer a new preschool for 10 to 12 low-income Center Grove families.
“We want to keep it small, with two teachers so the kids who do come will get enough attention to catch them up to where they need to be in the fall,” she said.
Gray wants to set up the new preschool by January. She’s hopeful she can use her current budget for Mount Pleasant’s preschool to cover the initial cost of staffing, and could start asking for donations, possibly from church members, she said.