Gov. Tom Corbett Tuesday announced an additional $10 million in funding for Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts.
“Every child in this state should be, ready to learn, ready to grow, ready to succeed, and my budget sets an agenda in that spirit,” Corbett said.
The program primarily serves at-risk and low-income children, and Corbett said the funding increase will provide early childhood education to an addition 1,670 of the commonwealth’s children. Pre-K Counts currently serves about 11,800 3- and 4-year-olds in the commonwealth, whose families make up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level.
Ken Smythe-Leistico, assistant director of the University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development, said an influx of funding is vital at this time.
“What we’ve seen in the last years with sequestration and other funding losses … for both local, state, and federal, the number of children that have been essentially… removed from the pre-K rosters has increased, so this is a step in the right direction,” said Smythe-Leistico.
For example, federal sequestration in 2013 lead to 1,650 children being cut from Head Start roles in Pennsylvania, with an additional 166 infants and toddlers cut from Early Head Start. Karen Grimms-Thomas from the Pennsylvania Head Start Association said it looks as if those funds will be restored, and they hope to add as many children as possible back onto their rosters for the 2014-15 school year.
Still, Smythe-Leistico said there are children who fall through the cracks and that early childhood education is beneficial not only for young children and their families, but also for society as a whole.
Smythe-Leistico heads up the Ready Freddy program, which works to improve school readiness in urban and low-income communities. He said pre-K education is vital to preparing kids for kindergarten, and that kids who enter kindergarten ready to learn and with well-developed cognitive and social-emotional skills tend to do better later in life.
“Those kids are … about four times more likely to be reading at third grade,” Smythe-Leistico said. “If you follow that down the road, that early success seems to predict later successes, which means being able to finish high school, and even the possibilities of college retention and completion.”
However, Smythe-Leistico said there are families in a “lost” income bracket, and he’s hopeful that the state’s additional spending will increase access to pre-K programs for those families.
“That lost group really is the children (in) families that make enough that they don’t qualify for free or reduced cost, but still the cost of pre-school from private sources is so expensive,” said Smythe-Leistico. “(I’m hopeful that) this would help that family that’s kind of in the middle there.”