Children Without Legal Status Rejected from Indiana’s Preschool Pilot Program

Reviewed by Mary McLaughlin, M.S. SpEd

In 2013, Indiana legislators together with Governor Mike Pense united to pass House Bill 1004, which designated close to $10 million in state funding to allow low-income children to enjoy preschool educations. Afterward, the state’s Family and Social Services Administration were given the burden of selecting just five counties to participate in the program.

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The recipients included Allen, Jackson, Lake, Marion, and Vanderburgh counties. Three of these counties, Marion, Jackson, and Lake, were specifically picked because their high population levels.

Although approximately 2,300 children now benefit from the preschool pilot program, legislators such as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have recently voiced disapproval over the program’s policy of denying enrollment to children from immigrant families that lack U.S. citizenship. However, Pense has explained that the pilot program is designed to stay consistent with federal laws, which maintain that although K-12 public schools must allow access to non-citizen children; preschools do not.

For his part, Duncan disputed this claim by reminding the public that federal rules do not prevent preschool programs from enrolling non-citizen children. And moreover, that the pilot program should have originally been conceived with all preschoolers in mind, not just those with U.S. citizenship.

An article published by the Indianapolis Business Journal on August 15th, 2015 quoted Duncan as saying, “There is no better bang for our buck educationally than preschool, and we need more children in America getting an early start–not fewer.”

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The issue was further debated when Pense spokeswoman Marni Lemons pointed to limitations of the fledgling pilot program, and that enrollment eligibility is based on fund distribution policies established by the federal Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) grant program. Prior to the pilot program, the federal CCDF grant was Indiana’s sole source of government assistance for preschool education.

Lemons’ solution for families with non-citizen children is to simply seek alternative educational support outlets such as Head Start programs in their local communities.

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