Quality pre-K programs can help kids later in school, both academically and socially. But many families can’t afford to send their children to pre-school, and government funding for early childhood programs has decreased in recent years.
A statewide effort was launched Thursday to ensure all three- and four-year-olds have access to quality pre-K programs. Michelle Figlar is executive director of the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children, or PAEYC. She said research has shown children who have access to strong pre-K programs do better overall in school.
“Research also shows that high quality pre-K reduced grade retention and costs related to special education. Children who participate in high-quality pre-K are more likely to graduate from high school, enroll in higher education and have increased lifetime earnings,” Figlar said.
But many families in the commonwealth simply can’t afford to send their children to pre-K programs.
“Today, the public funds available for pre-K in Pennsylvania help fewer than 20 percent of three- and four-year-olds access high quality programs,” Figlar said. “As a result, too many families cannot find or access high-quality pre-K.”
Specific details of funding and other campaign plans will be released as the effort progresses, but at the outset, the Pre-K for PA collaboration will engage businesses, educators, parents and lawmakers.
“I, personally, call on our state legislators and our governor and candidates for governor to not only restore full funding for pre-K programs, but really elevate this issue to ensure that every single child, every family, every school and every neighborhood has the opportunity to succeed,” said Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak.
Rudiak said lack of affordability for programs is a story she hears again and again from her constituents in the city’s southern neighborhoods and that needs to change.
“Pre-K can help us mediate many of our biggest challenges that I see every day in our neighborhoods and our schools, from high school truancy to high school dropout rates to even acts of violent crime,” said Rudiak.
Providing pre-K to all children is on the priority list of Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. His administration’s Chief Education and Neighborhood Revitalization Officer, Curtiss Porter said when the mayor met with President Obama in December he made a specific request.
“The first thing that he asked for is that the president consider that the city of Pittsburgh become the living laboratory for early childhood education and the improvements in life in general that early childhood education can bring,” Porter said.
It’s estimated that every dollar invested in quality pre-K generates more than $2 in the local economy, with a long-term investment of $17.00 for every dollar spent. Porter said access to early education is one of the best investments for a strong economy.
“We all know and believe that children are the treasures that will predict and produce our future and that it’s really up to us to build the infrastructure that will carry those dreams forward, that will carry our lives and our civilization forward,” said Porter.
Launch events for Pre-K for PA were also held in Philadelphia on Thursday. The collaboration is led in western Pennsylvania by PAEYC, statewide partners include the Pennsylvania Head Start Association, Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children and Economy League of Greater of Philadelphia.