Pennsylvania trails most neighboring states in access to publicly funded, high-quality, pre-K education, with only 1 in 6 children in the state enrolled in such a program, according to a report released last week by a Harrisburg children’s advocacy organization.
About 120,000 3- and 4-year-olds statewide, many of whom are from low-income families, are at risk of school failure because they don’t have opportunities for early childhood education, said Joan L. Benso, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children. That figure includes more than 12,500 children in Allegheny County.
“When we make this investment, we help kids, we help the communities, we help schools, we improve kids’ lives,” she said at a news conference Thursday at the Small World Early Learning & Development Center in Downtown.
The report, “The Case for Pre-K in PA,” noted that over five years, Pennsylvania dropped from 11th to 15th in the nation in pre-K access for 3-year-olds and from 24th to 30th for 4-year-olds, according to research from the National Institute for Early Education Research.
In Pennsylvania, such programs are available to 26 percent of 4-year-olds. In West Virginia, New York and Maryland, by contrast, the figures are 94 percent, 54 percent and 42 percent, respectively.
Grant Oliphant, president of The Heinz Endowments, called the foundation’s contributions to early childhood education “some of the most effective dollars that we’ve invested.”
“We can see over a 20-year time frame that those investments in kids have had a profound impact on their ability to learn and their later success in school,” he said. “That translates eventually into their success in life, their success in the workforce, their success as citizens of the commonwealth.”
The report estimated that a $500 million investment through 2019 would provide pre-K access to 40 percent of the state’s 3- and 4-year-olds, compared with fewer than 20 percent who benefited in 2013.
Philanthropic organizations “have invested vast resources to both make the case, prove the data, fund programs, [but] there isn’t enough money in philanthropy in America to fill the unmet need for high quality pre-K, which means government needs to step up,” Ms. Benso said.
The Republican-crafted budget that Gov. Tom Wolf partially signed in December included $25 million for pre-K education and $5 million for Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program over the previous year’s levels. Mr. Wolf, a Democrat, called the spending plan “garbage” that did not balance and provided too little funding for education.
Jeff Sheridan, spokesman for Mr. Wolf, said the compromise budget reached shortly before Thanksgiving provided an increase of $50 million for pre-K education and $10 million for the Head Start, half of what the governor proposed in those categories in March.
“It’s one of his priorities, and it will continue to be,” Mr. Sheridan said of early childhood education.
“The fiscal reality is we only have so many tax dollars,” said John O’Brien, spokesman for the House appropriations committee. “We feel that we have made some historic investments in education.”
The report is available at http://www.papartnerships.org/publication_files/case-for-pre-k-in-pa.pdf.
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