Indiana's three most populous counties are among five chosen for a pilot program that will allow low-income children in those areas to attend preschool as early as next year.
Allen, Jackson, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh counties were selected from among 18 counties that submitted applications for the pilot program, Gov. Mike Pence's office announced Tuesday. Marion, Lake and Allen counties have the largest populations.
Under the plan, which is Indiana's first state-funded preschool program, low-income families of 4-year-old children will receive grants to attend public or private preschools.
Pence said in a statement that the program will aid "some of our most vulnerable children."
Family and Social Services Administration spokeswoman Marni Lemons said an estimated 1,600 to 5,000 children could take part in the program, depending on how much matching funding each county provides and whether families choose a full- or part-time status for their children.
Money for the pilot program will also come from $10 million in FSSA budget savings being reverted to the state's general fund and $5 million in private donations, she said.
Pence had sought approval of a preschool program for up to 40,000 low-income children, but Senate Republicans concerned about the cost forced a more modest plan.
Lemons said several studies have found children who get an early start in their education through preschool programs perform better academically than youngsters who do not.
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard said improving youngsters' start in school reduces the likelihood they will eventually turn to a life of crime and gives them "a greater chance at a healthy, productive life."
"Too many young children from low-income families aren't adequately prepared to start school, never fully catch up and end up dropping off society's radar only to re-emerge in handcuffs years down the road," Ballard said in a statement.
The five counties chosen for the program were selected by an advisory group based on the county's need and its ability and readiness to participate in the pilot program.
The grant program, which was established by the state General Assembly in HEA 1004, is on track to launch in early 2015.