EDITORIAL: Expanded Pre-K makes dollars and sense

York Dispatch

Let's take a look at a few numbers:

•$120 million: Additional funding proposed by Gov. Tom Wolf for pre-K education in Pennsylvania.

•1 in 4: The ratio of Pennsylvania children who could go to school before they reach kindergarten if the funding goes through.

•1 in 6: The ratio of Pennsylvania children who attend pre-K classes now.

•16: The percentage of York County children in pre-K classes.

•$800 million and 28,000: The amount of additional products and the number of new jobs that would be created if all Pennsylvania children ages 3 and 4 were in quality pre-K classes, according to the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia.

•$2 billion: The amount Pennsylvania spends each year on incarceration, according to York County District Attorney Tom Kearney.

•68: The percentage of state inmates who did not receive a high school diploma.

•$1, $1.79, $17: For $1 invested in early education now, the immediate return is $1.79, and the long-term return is $17, according to the Economy League.

It's a lot to take in, but it boils down to this: Pre-K education makes dollars and sense. Children can either enter kindergarten prepared to do their best and run straight through to high school and college, or they can start out behind and never catch up.

State legislators know all this. They're constantly talking about being behind pre-K education, saying they want to give children the opportunities they deserve.

But when it comes time to ante up, oh well. It just doesn't happen.

"As a supporter of pre-K, I have to be blunt with you: You're not going to get the $120 million. The financial support just isn't there for it yet," state Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, told a group that gathered recently in York County to talk about expanding early education.

So when will the support be there, representative? When the babies born today are getting ready to enter kindergarten? When today's 3-year-olds are doing poorly on their PSSAs in third grade because they started out behind? Seventh grade? How about the Keystone Exams? Will it happen before another generation is consigned to a life of low wages or criminal activity?

If you know there's a program that works and can improve the lives of thousands of children across the state, how can you claim to support that program but refuse to fund it?

The price tag won't go down, legislators. Every year that passes, early education will cost more. And every year the state will be forced to throw more money into the criminal justice system because it has failed another group of children who could have succeeded if they had had a better beginning. And everyone will continue to lose the money that could have been made and the jobs that could have been created.

So we ask again, when will the support be there? Let's make it today and put that money into the state budget this year. Another year is too late for the kids.