Universal Pre-K

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

It’s a conversation heard around countless dinner tables or on the way home. What did you do at school today? The answer most often is nothing or "I don’t know" or "I played."

That one-sided conversation is common in early education students. Parents can try to talk to teachers during the shuffle of picking up their child, but that’s usually only slightly more productive.

A national campaign aimed at increasing access to early childhood learning programs is getting a boost from one of Pittsburgh’s biggest charities.

The Heinz Endowments announced $9 million in funding for Invest in US, a program unveiled by President Obama at Wednesday’s White House Summit on Early Childhood Education. According to the White House website, Invest in US challenges public and private partners, business leaders, philanthropists, advocates, elected officials, and individuals to expand high-quality early childhood education.

A group working to expand access to early childhood learning programs in Pittsburgh has released its recommendations to state officials – as Pennsylvania gears up to apply for a piece of a nationwide $250 million preschool development grant. In Pittsburgh, the share would be used to expand access for lower-income children first.

“This grant would provide more access for 378 more children who are currently on a waiting list to be served in a high-quality program,” said Cosette Grant-Overton, manager of educational development in the mayor’s office.

Barnaby Wasson / Flickr

As Pennsylvania continues a campaign to ensure access to PRE-K programs for all children, Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, a representative from Mayor Bill Peduto’s office, Pittsburgh Public Schools, and a group from the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children (PAEYC) traveled to New York City to see how that city is implementing universal Pre-K.

Rudiak said one thing is clear: It takes multiple players working together to pull it off.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

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.

One in six of Pennsylvania’s 3- and 4-year-olds were enrolled in publicly funded pre-K programs during the 2011-12 school-year. That’s according to PA Partnerships for Children.

Now U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) announced a new proposal for universal pre-K Wednesday.

“Children in every state need to learn at an early age and need to learn how to read at an early age,” Casey said. “And the accident, the circumstance of your birth should not determine whether or not you can read or whether you can learn.”