CHOP Pediatrician: Pre-K Prevents and Heals

Dr. Nate Blum joins Rep. Todd Stephens, Rep. Madeleine Dean at regional legislative breakfast focused on the case for expanding pre-k quickly to thousands of at-risk kids in Delaware, Philadelphia Counties

 Wayne, PA (May 4, 2016)Chief of the Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Nate Blum, MD joined local business leaders and education advocates as part of a regional Pre-K for PA legislative breakfast today with PA State Representatives Todd Stephens and Madeleine Dean to call for a serious investment in pre-k as leaders in Harrisburg launch budget negotiations.

The group participated in a panel discussion that focused on the need to increase state funding and research documenting the impact of high-quality early childhood programs on educational and life outcomes for at-risk children and specifically how it can affect a child’s health and development.

Dr. Blum outlined findings in a Pennsylvania Chapter of American Association of Pediatrics policy statement released earlier this year, “Poverty and Child Health in the United States” that noted early childhood interventions such as high-quality pre-k programs have a high return on investment in both human and financial terms, in part because of their power to mitigate the negative impacts of toxic stress. He also previewed findings of a PA AAP report to be released May 16th at the state Capitol in Harrisburg.

“Much of the work we do in pediatric medicine is focused on prevention,” said Dr. Blum. “Another key area of our work is mitigating the health impacts of things we cannot prevent. Finding ways to heal and help children recover from harm that has come to them.

“Pre-k programs are, in essence, a form of both prevention and healing. High-quality pre-k programs can help prevent the loss of opportunity by preparing children academically and socially for success once they enter kindergarten. And these programs can help heal by mitigating the impact of toxic stress and other negative forces that can undermine a child’s success. If you look at it in that context, I think it becomes clear why pediatricians are so strongly supportive of giving all of our children access to high-quality pre-k.”

The 2016-17 budget proposal includes $120 million in additional funding over two years for high-quality pre-k, which includes the $30 million in new funding already enacted for the second half of the current school year. If realized, Pennsylvania’s investment will rise to $197.284 million in Pre-K Counts and $59.178 million in the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program in FY 2016-17.

“All students should have access to early learning opportunities setting them on a path to success while reducing future government costs,” said State Representative Todd Stephens. “Pre-k can change a child’s path from one that leads to poverty or prison to one that develops into a life-sustaining career. Pre-k is great for both children and taxpayers.”

Across Pennsylvania, there are more than 175,000 3- and 4-year-olds who are at-risk because they are in lower income households—70 percent of these at-risk young learners – more than 120,000 children statewide – had no access to publicly funded pre-k last year.

“Research shows the value of quality pre-k education,” said State Representative Madeleine Dean.  “The money invested in early education more than pays for itself over time in decreased special education, public welfare, unemployment, and prison costs.”

In his remarks, Jim Cawley President & CEO of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, outlined the enormous need for investment, particularly when it comes to the high percentage of at-risk kids with no access to pre-k. Cawley outlined troubling statistics regarding the lack of availability of high-quality pre-k for children at greatest risk of academic failure due to conditions or circumstances beyond their control.

“Even with a $90 million increase in state pre-k funding for fiscal 2016-17, Pennsylvania would still have more than 107,000 – or about 61 percent – of at-risk preschool children without access to high-quality pre-k,” said Cawley. “This is why continued and consistent investment in pre-k is so critical. Every child deserves the opportunity to succeed in their educational experience and ultimately to succeed in life.”

Philadelphia County has more than 29,900 at-risk 3- and 4-year-olds, and a staggering 59 percent of them – about 17,600 children – lacked access to high-quality pre-k last year. Delaware County has more than 14,850 at-risk 3- and 4-year-olds, and about three-fourths of them – 5,284 children – also lacked access to publicly funded, high-quality pre-k last year.

By the time at-risk children get to kindergarten, reports show many are already behind in vocabulary development and pre-literacy and pre-math skills. They can also have problems with behavior and impulse control – which makes it hard to get along with other kids and teachers.

Pre-K for PA is an issue campaign supported by individuals and organizations across Pennsylvania who believe that investing in our children is the right choice and an urgent necessity. Its vision is that every 3- and 4-year-old in Pennsylvania will have access to high-quality pre-k. Pre-K for PA does not endorse or oppose candidates, but rather advocates on behalf of this vision for Pennsylvania’s children, schools and communities. For more information visit www.prekforpa.org.

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