Pennsylvania Democratic gubernatorial challenger Tom Wolf made a stop in his home county Friday morning, campaigning for better access to early education.
Wolf toured York Day Nursery Inc at 450 E. Philadelphia St., where his company's name, The Wolf Organization Inc., is in the entrance among other donors to the child care facility and preschool.
Funding pre-K education is "not just about social welfare." It's a "foundation for economic development," Wolf said at the York City facility.
A major part of the candidate's agenda involves restoring $1 billion in cuts to education, implementing a fair funding formula and establishing reforms to improve student performance.
Wolf's plan also extends state education to include universal pre-K.
"If kids get the right start, they can do a lot," he said.
York Day Nursery is one of 15 early learning centers in York County that is certified by the National Association of for the Education of Young Children. That puts York third — behind Philadelphia and Allegheny — among Pennsylvania counties with the highest number of accredited, early learning facilities, according to Meg Brubaker, a member of the board of directors at York Day Nursery.
The nonprofit's history dates back 80 years to when it operated on Market Street. About 20 years ago, the current location on East Philadelphia Street was built and has gradually expanded with the help of community donations.
York Day Nursery serves an average of 101 students a day and maintains a 2:1 student-teacher ratio, which is well above the state minimum requirement, said board president Christopher Reed.
About 77 percent of the students who attend the facility come from working families with a household income below the poverty level. Other students are from middle class and affluent households throughout York County, furthering the center's goal of maintaining diversity, he said.
But it will take more government support and subsidies for York Day Nursery and similar institutions to hire more workers with higher levels of education and continue to improve services, Brubaker said.
She said former Gov. Ed Rendell, a Philadelphia Democrat, understood the importance of early education and would like to see that support again.
"He knew for every $1 spent here (on early education), it saves $16 or $17 later" in costs associated with juvenile delinquency, teen pregnancy, high school failure and unemployment, Brubaker said.
Wolf said he wants to get back to that level of spending on early education.
"I want to keep showcasing this is not just a good thing to do, it's a smart thing to do," he said.
Explaining why early education matters, Brubaker said 90 percent of brain development occurs by age 5.
Development is typically slowed in economically disadvantaged children, who often enter kindergarten one to two years behind, she said.
"We need to send our kids to school ready to learn and able to learn," Brubaker said.
Gov. Tom Corbett's office said the Republican incumbent also values early education and has a record to prove it.
During Corbett's leadership, funding for early childhood education programs has increased by $72 million for a total of $374 million, said Chris Pack, Corbett's communications director.
The 2014-15 budget invests an additional $10 million into Pre-K Counts, providing approximately 1,670 more pre-school age children with access to high-quality learning programs, he said.
Corbett also secured a $51.7 million federal Race to the Top grant to increase the quality of early childhood education programs throughout the state, Pack said.
—Reach Candy Woodall at email@example.com.