One of the expected front-runners among the eight Democratic candidates for governor is unveiling the beginnings of an education plan that focuses on early learning.
Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz said in a conference call with reporters Thursday that, if elected, she would build on state and federal programs in place to encourage pre-kindergarten for all four-year-olds and expand access to full-day kindergarten.
"It would not be a mandate," Schwartz said. "It would be universal access but it would be voluntary. So, there is an infrastructure in place now, in Head Start and in Pre-K Counts, so we will be looking quite (quickly) to both having public schools expand them potentially to do this."
According to advocacy group PA Partnerships for Children, statewide enrollment in full-day kindergarten was about 68 percent in 2010. The same group found in a 2012 report that fewer than 17 percent of Pennsylvania's three- and four-year-olds have access to high-quality, publicly funded pre-kindergarten.
Schwartz' announcement comes within days of State Treasurer Rob McCord entering the Democratic race with a call to put more money towards education.
The congresswoman said she would allot a decade to make pre-kindergarten universal throughout Pennsylvania. When a reporter suggested that seemed like a long time, Schwartz agreed.
"Maybe I will be even more successful — I'm trying to practical," Schwartz said. "I'm trying to understand the responsibility of having to balance this budget."
She also listed plans to reduce class sizes in kindergarten through third grade, adopt a funding formula for schools, and reverse cuts made to education under Gov. Tom Corbett, an effort, she said, that would take four years.
To pay for additional schools investment, Schwartz said she would put less money toward cyber charter schools and place a five percent severance tax on natural gas production in Pennsylvania. The levy would be on top of an impact fee on gas drillers.