IPS free preschool on hold; parents angry

Families like Jill Carrel's are left waiting for a decision.
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The Indianapolis Public Schools Board is working to fix a free preschool program to get hundreds of inner-city children in school this fall.

The program was on, then put on hold by the new school board. Now parents are left waiting for answers.

Board members say they are 100 percent behind free preschool. They want to make sure there is enough money to keep program running year after year. They are considering proposals that could limit free preschool to only the children who need the most help. That is not going to make a some parents happy.

Jill Carrel and Dusty Rademacher are among the hundreds of parents eager to learn whether IPS will keep its promise and provide their children free preschool.

As her three-year-old son played in the living room, Dusty Rademacher explained, "It is very disheartening to be in a position where it could happen. It could not happen. They could pull it any day."

The parents and friends were among the first to sign up. But the school board, concerned about the program's cost and organization, put it on hold.

"For them to kind of change the program in the middle after we signed up is disappointing," Jill Carrel said.

The IPS school board is now looking at three proposals. Each one of them would offer more help but to a fewer number of students, and perhaps exclude some families and children from the free program.

The original plan was for 1,400 students. The proposals limit enrollment to at most 900 and as few as 560. But they add transportation to and from school, along with before and after school programs.

Because much of the funding comes from federal grants, enrollment could be limited to "at risk" students, excluding middle income families from free preschool - families like the Carrels.

"We chose IPS. We made a commitment to stay in Marion County," explained Jill Carrel. "We are here and we support the programs. We are engaged parents. We know what is happening in our school with our families."

Dusty Rademacher works two jobs to pay her son's $700-a-month preschool bill. She admits that she's angry.

"There are programs out there for those students already. And I would like to see help for families like ourselves, on the verge of being able to afford it, but not quite there," she said.

The school board is fighting the calendar. It wants to have a program finalized by the end of the month so four-year-olds can be in preschool classes this fall.