Pre-K Expansion? 'We Know it Works'

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Two key figures in a state-supported pre-kindergarten program are weighing-in on the lessons learned and challenges that lie ahead one year into its pilot run. The On My Way Pre-K program is operating in Allen, Jackson, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh counties. United Way of Central Indiana Vice President of Public Policy Andrew Cullen says demand in Indianapolis has been so high, more than 3,500 applicants were turned away in year one. During an interview on Inside INdiana Business Television, he said public, private and nonprofit stakeholders will approach the General Assembly for an expansion in pre-k funding next session.

The program is designed for low-income Hoosiers.

Eli Lilly and Co. (NYSE: LLY) Director of State Governmental Affairs Michael O'Connor joined Cullen on the show and said the private sector has "put our skin in the game" to make the program effective. In all, businesses in Indiana contributed some $10 million toward the pilot, including $2 million from Lilly. Columbus-based Cummins Inc. (NYSE: CMI), PNC Bank and others were also involved. O'Connor says once students get behind in school, it's hard to catch up, and data show the academic resiliency gained by students demonstrates the investment is worthwhile for his company. "We know it works. (If we) focus on high quality, we know it will have a return on the state's bottom line."

Cullen says "one of the things we did right in Indiana is that we created a pilot program so that we can learn and make sure that when we do expand, we expand the right way. We'll have three years worth of data that is very, very valuable. So we're going to take what we have learned, present it to the General Assembly and the governor, and ask them to please consider an expansion in 2017 to help take care of these families."

Registration for participation in this year's On My Way Pre-K program was recently closed.

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