This year, 730 children are already on the waiting list — and Sue Yohe, director of York County Head Start, expects that list to continue growing.
But while the need and interest for early childhood education programs are strong, the funding available is not.
Yohe and Jennifer Knight, who runs the Head Start Center at Zion United Methodist Church of Red Lion, met with York County Sheriff Richard Keuerleber and state Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, on Thursday to discuss the value of early childhood education.
What it is: People often mistake Head Start as a childcare program, but it exists for the purpose of educational improvement and supporting families as a whole to help them become self-sufficient, said Yohe.
Parents who enroll their child in Head Start are required to set and work toward goals that could include basic nutrition improvements or obtaining long-term housing, Knight said. Job training is also available through Head Start, she said.
Supporting families and giving children a strong educational start will help prevent them from turning to crime later on, which will save the public millions of dollars, Keuerleber said.
“We see them as teenagers and adults if we don't give them the right start,” Keuerleber said.
Why it matters: Pennsylvania has one of the fastest-growing prison populations in the United States and is spending $1.86 billion in the current fiscal year to house more than 50,000 inmates, according to a news release from Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national anti-crime organization to which Keuerleber belongs.
Fight Crime: Invest in Kids is urging legislators to develop a plan to expand the reach of early childhood education programs to more at-risk children who qualify, said director Bruce Clash, who was also in Red Lion on Thursday.
The average cost of a child who drops out of high school, uses drugs and becomes a career criminal is $2.5 million, according to the release.
Pennsylvania needs to prioritize pre-kindergarten programs that will increase high school graduation rates and cut crime and inmate populations, Keuerleber said.
Programs like Head Start make sure students are ready for elementary school, because if a student is already behind in elementary school they may never catch up, said Saylor. It's too early to tell what state funding these programs will receive for the upcoming year, he added.
He anticipates funding will either remain at the current level or see a slight increase when the budget is made.
— Reach Chelsea Shank at 505-5432 or firstname.lastname@example.org.