Local advocates push for pre-K funding
Advocates for early childhood education came together Wednesday at York County's oldest early child care center and called on the state to prioritize expanding access to high-quality pre-K.
During the news conference at York Day Nursery, hosted by local United Way organizations and members of the Pre-K for PA campaign, pre-K supporters discussed "The Case for Pre-K in PA" — a report released on Wednesday by Pennsylvania Partnership for Children that details how increased state investments in early education sustained over several years can benefit students, schools and communities.
According to the report, in York County 16 percent of children have access to high-quality pre-K, 9 percent have access to high-quality, publicly funded pre-K and 19 percent of children below the poverty level have access.
Other states have steadily been investing in and increasing access to early childhood education, while Pennsylvania's attention to the initiative has stalled over the past few years, said Bob Woods, executive director of the United Way of York County. In the past five years, Pennsylvania has dropped from 11th to 15th in the nation in pre-K access for 3-year-olds. For 4-year-olds, the state has gone from 24th to 30th, according to the report.
"The United Way and our community partners simply don't have adequate resources to reach all children," he said. "Government must be the largest investor if we are to ensure all of our children benefit."
Joan Benso, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Partnership for Children, said while the validity of early childhood education was once questioned, there is no longer any debate on the matter.
"Policy makers still haven't made it an urgent enough priority," she said.
Gov. Tom Wolf had wanted to invest an additional $120 million in early childcare education in his proposed budget for 2015-16. However, the partial budget he signed late last month expanded funding by $30 million, which would benefit an estimated 7 million children who had not previously had access to pre-K, Benso said.
York Day Nursery: "The children here will be far better when they walk out these doors and move onto kindergarten," Benso said of York Day Nursery.
The six-classroom — one of which is a state-funded Pre-K Counts classroom — childcare facility, built in 1934, facilitates more than 100 children with ages ranging from 6 weeks to 5 years old. It also has a wait-list in the hundreds, said Lisa Rumsey, the interim executive director of the center.
The accredited facility has a 4 STAR status, the highest performance level under the state's Keystone STARS Quality initiative. Approximately 8 percent of children statewide have access to a program with this high of a quality, Benso said.
"The difference you see in children from the when they start here to when they leave is astronomical," Rumsey said. "And it's not just about cognitive development, it's about socialization and emotional development as well."
— Reach Jessica Schladebeck at email@example.com.