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4/16/2018 6:13:00 PM
Overcoming barriers to Indiana's On My Way Pre-K program
Andrea Burnet moves to music Friday in the preschool at Holy Cross School in South Bend that’s part of the state’s On My Way Pre-K program. Tribune Photo/SANTIAGO FLORES
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Andrea Burnet moves to music Friday in the preschool at Holy Cross School in South Bend that’s part of the state’s On My Way Pre-K program. Tribune Photo/SANTIAGO FLORES

Joseph Dits, South Bend Tribune Staff Writer

Indiana’s pre-kindergarten program rolls out in full force in the fall, and local organizers are trying to fill the slots now — limited as they are — with families who face the same pinch as Alexandria Warren.

The single mom liked the Elkhart preschool that her daughter, Zariah, was attending. She said the girl, now 4, “loves to learn.” It was affordable for the first year, $12 per week, but the sliding scale fee shot up to $140 per week when Warren’s income grew, thanks to a factory job.

Warren pulled Zariah out of preschool and used family as babysitters. That’s why she has applied for both the state pre-K program as well as the federal Head Start preschool program.

“It does give you options,” Anna Carter tells her Thursday at Elkhart’s Tolson Center, as Warren files a Head Start application.

Carter is project manager for the state pre-K program in St. Joseph, Elkhart, Marshall and Kosciusko counties, and she’s coming to Head Start enrollment events so that if a needy family doesn’t qualify for one program, perhaps the other one can help. Head Start regularly has a long waiting list after it fills its 1,020 slots for kids in Elkhart and St. Joseph counties.

“We don’t want any child not having that quality care,” she said.

On My Way Pre-K, as it’s called, is coming to 20 counties across Indiana, up from a five-county pilot program, thanks to a $22 million expansion that the state legislature passed last year. Support comes from the state, feds and private dollars, including the United Way in the local four counties.

Families choose from a list of preschools that are accredited or that at least reach Level 3 in the state’s Paths to Quality rating, where Level 4 is the highest. The program covers the cost of tuition up to the market rate for each individual county, plus 10 percent. Parents pay anything beyond that, Carter said.

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