Council approves task force to look into affordable preschool
March 14, 2017 8:33 PM
“The way we, as a society, educate our youngest citizens is a predictor of the adults that they’ll be,” said Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak.
By Adam Smeltz / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
As early as December, Pittsburgh could have a blueprint for broadening access to pre-kindergarten programs.
City Council voted 9-0 Tuesday to create an early childhood task force charged with fostering an affordable preschool plan. Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak said she would like the effort to finish by year’s end.
“Right now, we don’t have enough high-quality slots in the City of Pittsburgh to accommodate the need” for pre-K education, said Ms. Rudiak, who sponsored the legislation with Council President Bruce Kraus.
Mayor Bill Peduto is expected to sign the bill, administration spokesman Timothy McNulty said. Mr. Peduto, who is running for re-election this year, has called early childhood education one of his main focal points in 2017.
“It’s a one-time investment for a huge return down the road,” Mr. Kraus said. The task force should look in part at drug and alcohol awareness, and its work will help steer future policy decisions, he said.
Mr. Peduto will appoint up to 15 people to the group, including representatives for parents, Pittsburgh Public Schools and the philanthropic community, according to the legislation. A mayoral panel has encouraged universal pre-K access for all 3- and 4-year-old city residents, along with strategies to strengthen the programs themselves. Both goals will be on the task force’s agenda.
About 1,500 children in Pittsburgh lack access to full-day, high-quality preschool programs, according to a 2016 report from the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers. Fewer than 14 percent of providers registered in a Pennsylvania child care rating program have achieved a high-quality designation, the legislation shows.
Pittsburgh Public Schools provides free, full-day preschool to children ages 3 to 5, funded through a combination of sources, including the state’s Head Start and Pre-K Counts initiatives. The Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center also provides free pre-K and Head Start to low-income children in four city neighborhoods.
An extra $20 million a year would cover high-quality preschool for city youngsters who are not currently enrolled, according to Ms. Rudiak, who is not seeking reelection.
She said early intervention in a child’s life can prevent social ills such as crime, violence and drug use.
“The way we, as a society, educate our youngest citizens is a predictor of the adults that they’ll be,” she said.
Adam Smeltz: 412-263-2625, firstname.lastname@example.org, @asmeltz. Staff writer Molly Born contributed.
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