St. Joseph and Elkhart Counties not chosen for preschool pilot program


It was a big disappointment Tuesday for local educators and people in community outreach programs. St. Joseph and Elkhart Counties were not chosen to be a part of a pilot program that would have allowed hundreds of low-income children to attend preschool.

Five out of 18 counties were chosen to be part of that program. They are Allen, Jackson, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh. St. Joseph and Elkhart were passed over, which means they won't be getting much needed funds to send low-income children to preschool.

For now, the school supplies are in the hallway, ready to be placed in the classrooms and used by pre-schoolers.

"Every child deserves to be in preschool," said Kathy Guajardo, Head Start Executive Director for St. Joseph and Elkhart Counties.

Guajardo says there's at total of 615 children on the school's waiting list. That's for both areas. A pilot preschool program, funded by the state, would have taken those kids off the waiting list and into the classroom, but St. Joseph and Elkhart were not among the five counties chosen to receive grant money.

"So that meant 615 preschool age children will not be able to be served through any type of school system, preschool program or Head Start so that means these children could possibly fall behind," Guajardo said.

"Very disappointed, there's a lot of children that would have benefited greatly from this opportunity," said Rose Meissner, President of the Community Foundation of St. Joseph County.

Had they been chosen for the program, both counties would have each received two million dollars a year for up to five years. The money would have been used to send low-income children to the preschool of their parents' choice.

"There's a lot of evidence to suggest that if a child has access to high quality early childhood, it can make a big difference in terms of how they succeed in school," Meissner said. "There's a lot of attention paid to many people who live in poverty in the U.S., the only real ticket out of poverty is a good education."

...An education that some area children may miss out on before going into kindergarten.

Kosciusko County was also a finalist, but didn't make the cut. The pre-school pilot program is expected to launch early next year. Meissner says the state has indicated the possibility of another opportunity to apply, but nothing has been guaranteed.

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