York County is 'shovel-ready' to maximize U.S. early childhood education investments
President Biden’s scaled back American Families Plan still proposes historic investments in early childhood education, and York County stands to benefit.
The pandemic raised awareness of early childhood education as a workforce development issue. With billions of federal dollars coming to communities for high-quality child care and pre-K nationwide, York County can accelerate existing efforts and boost the economy by extending the advantages of quality early learning to more families and businesses.
After all, parents can’t fill job openings or stay productive at work if child care is unreliable or unavailable. Their absences and turnover cost Pennsylvania employers $2.88 billion a year, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, while the state loses $591 million annually in tax revenue.
Here in York County, smart investments can stop the bleeding, and we know where the need is. In York only 19 percent of eligible children under age 5 receive Child Care Works, which helps families pay for child care. Only 20 percent of eligible York County 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in high-quality programs, including STAR 3 and 4, Head Start, and Pre-K Counts. About 10 percent are enrolled in Pre-K Counts.
Fortunately, York is interwoven with successful early childhood programs and initiatives. With their track records, they are “shovel-ready” for American Families Plan investments that generate economic momentum.
Pete Brubaker, a York County Early Learning Investment Commission member, states, “York County has a history of supporting high-quality early childhood education dating from the early 1990s. Despite the progress that has been made, too many York County children do not have access to high-quality care.”
It’s a similar perspective shared by The William Penn Foundation, recently stating that Philadelphia is “home to programs that are ready-made for expansion with new federal funding and can demonstrate how to effectively improve quality, access, and affordability.”
We, too, are positioned to improve availability and quality of early care and education in York County. Our existing efforts to address the pillars of early childhood education include:
Quality improvement: Not just any child care or pre-K will do. Quality teachers and programming help children grow to their full abilities. York County is committed to increasing the number of high-quality programs and slots. York currently has 37 STAR 3 and STAR 4 programs and about 1,000 Early Head Start, Head Start, and Pre-K Counts slots.
Financing: In the business of child care and pre-K, operating margins are wafer-thin. Financial support, especially through EITC, local foundations, and individuals, helps child care expand available slots, retain staff, and improve quality. In York County, business and community members have supported investments in high-quality early childhood education for decades. These supports include investments in First 10, a program that engages families, early childhood educators, school districts, and community partners to ensure children enter school ready to learn and be successful.
Workforce development: Helping teachers earn college degrees and climb career ladders builds their knowledge of early childhood development and encourages them to stay in the field, providing the stability that young children need. York County leaders have invested in teacher education and retention. Child Care Consultants provides 1,000 of hours each year in free professional development, Communities of Practice, and technical assistance.
Family subsidies: In York County, a two-adult family with an infant and a preschooler spends about $1,540 a month on child care. Those who can’t afford it must leave the workforce or cobble together unreliable child care arrangements. While unfilled needs in our region are crying to be addressed, we also know that Child Care Works makes child care affordable for 1.200 York County children, 360 3- and 4-year-old children are enrolled in Pre-K Counts, and Early Head Start and Head Start serve about 640 children.
All of this is a great start, but the reality is we do not have enough capacity to provide essential early childhood education resources to ensure our children are school-ready. By supporting American Families Plan investments, we strengthen child care and pre-K, and we secure a brighter future for our children, our families, and our local economy.
— Members of the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission are: Pete Brubaker, president of Hammer Creek Enterprises, LLC; Tony Campisi, chairman of the board at Glatfelter Insurance Group' Josh Carney, owner and president of Carney Engineering Group; Joe Crosswhite, senior vice president of M&T Bank; Roxanna L. Gapstur, president and CEO of WellSpan Health' and Kevin Schreiber, president and CEO of the York County Economic Alliance.