Erie Times: Op-ed: PA children, employers need quality pre-k
June 23, 2017 by Robin Scheppner
A lot has changed since 1931 when American Tinning & Galvanizing incorporated in Erie. Our company has been specializing in corrosion control of metal since then, but in 2004 we undertook the rigorous process of becoming certified by the National Aerospace Defense Contractors Accreditation Program. With NADCAP certification, ATG successfully competes for aerospace work outside the Erie region from companies such as Bell Helicopter and others.
ATG now has the credentials and customer base but still struggles to find quality workers. Public education does not offer courses or training in metal finishing (electroplating, anodizing and galvanizing). ATG, and other metal finishers in Erie, must recruit and train their workforces.
Expertise in this industry is a result of on-the-job training. For an employee to excel, he or she must be able to read! NADCAP requirements spell out detailed work guidelines that identify each step of production, from being checked in at the loading dock, assigned a job number, transferred to the proper department, processed according to stringent procedures, quality inspected, packed and checked out for shipping. Any worker, at any of these steps, must be able to read specific directions, comprehend them and be accountable for the signoff at completion.
How does this relate to prekindergarten education? Erie County employers, like ATG, require an educated, motivated workforce to be successful and competitive. There’s widespread recognition that workforce development starts with high quality pre-K that puts our children on the path to reading proficiency and success in school and life.
Pre-K matters because 90 percent of brain development occurs before age 5. Young children need the carefully crafted enrichment activities found in a quality pre-K setting that strengthen the brain’s neurological pathways and make a child kindergarten-ready. Quality early learning forms the foundation for future learning, critical thought, socialization and, in the long run, employability. Yet, too many children, especially those from lower-income families, never get that chance.
Fortunately, there is a solution. Investments in high-quality pre-K give all children a strong start and yield immediate, long-lasting returns to society.
High-quality pre-K reduces grade repetition and special education placements in later grades, saving resources that schools can spend elsewhere.
Children who benefit from high-quality pre-K are less likely to drop out of school and more likely to graduate and attend postsecondary education. This powerful combination boosts their employment opportunities, earning power and employability, while reducing the community’s costs for social services.
Every dollar spent in Pennsylvania on early learning generates an additional 79 cents in other sectors of the economy. Viewed from another perspective, every dollar invested in high-quality pre-K returns up to $17 in long-term savings and benefits.
A well-respected, independent cost-benefit analysis of almost 20 different studies of high-quality pre-K programs showed that pre-K can return, on average, a “profit” (economic benefits minus costs) to society of nearly $30,000 for every child served.
Despite the evidence, Pennsylvania’s investment in early learning is lagging. More than 112,900 eligible preschool children aren’t served by high-quality, publicly funded pre-K. That’s 64 percent of children ages 3 to 5 who probably aren’t getting the enrichment that boosts their prospects for lifetime success. Chances are, we will never benefit from their future contributions to our businesses and neighborhoods.
Throughout Pennsylvania, the unmet need is felt sharply in every community, whether rural, urban or suburban. In Erie County, more than 48 percent of all eligible children living in low-income families don’t have the opportunity to learn in a high-quality pre-K classroom. It’s very possible that this missed opportunity will change lifelong outcomes for those children.
Organizations like the United Way of Erie County are making strategic investments in early learning programs across our community, recognizing that access to quality pre-K is essential for all children. Erie’s Future Fund is another effort to address this unmet need by providing scholarships for quality pre-K programs for low-income 3- and 4-year-old children.
Yet, far too many children in Erie County, and across the state, lack access to publicly funded quality pre-K programs. To learn more about your school district, go to the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children’s recently released report, “A Path Forward,” at www.papartnerships.org/prekinpa.
For ATG and other employers across the commonwealth, our youngest citizens represent our future workforces and the community’s potential entrepreneurs. With high-quality pre-K, children will be better prepared to learn to read, and then better equipped for academic success. There can be more certainty that they will grow into self-sufficient adults who contribute to our workplaces and communities.
It’s time for Harrisburg to commit to public investments in quality pre-K that close the opportunity gap. Kids who are ready to learn become adults who are ready to earn at companies like ATG that want to stay and thrive in Pennsylvania.
Robin Scheppner is the owner and president of American Tinning & Galvanizing and a board member of the United Way of Erie County.
Read the full op-ed here.