March 01, 2014 3:15 pm  •  The Sentinel

Most parents remember with great amazement and admiration the period when their children were toddlers.

Their young brains are like sponges, we are told. Let them soak up information. Answer questions. Expose them to music and arts. Encourage learning. Start molding them into wonderful people. It’s not too early.

Parents can see this growth occur, and it leads to some outstanding memories. Not only that, it helps shape who those young people will be for the rest of their lives.

Engaged, inquisitive toddlers turn into engaged, inquisitive adults. Learn to learn at a young age, and it will continue for life.

So we were disappointed to hear about a report this week that states that 70 percent of Pennsylvania’s 3- and 4-year-olds don’t have access to high-quality preschool.

Nearly 209,000 young children lack access to pre-kindergarten programs because their families either can’t find or can’t afford it, the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children found in its new report, “A Smart Choice for a Solid Start: The Case for Pre-k in PA.” Less than 18 percent, or about 53,000 children, are enrolled in publicly funded pre-kindergarten programs statewide.

In Cumberland County, the report estimates that 79 percent of children ages 3 or 4 don’t have access to high-quality preschool — defined as schools involved in Pre-K Counts, Head Start, Keystone STARS, public schools, Pennsylvania Department of Education licensed nursery schools or have accreditations by national associations.

A coalition of 10 nonprofit organizations is trying to ensure every child has the opportunity to attend a strong preschool program and wants lawmakers to devote more resources to early education as they develop the 2014-15 budget.

We wholeheartedly support quality pre-kindergarten programs.

Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed $29.4 billion 2014-15 budget includes an increase in funding for early education of about $10.8 million, a 3 percent increase over the previous year. The bulk of the increase — $10 million — would go toward the Pre-K Counts program to enroll 1,670 more students.

We want to see improvement in pre-kindergarten programs, and more children involved in them. It’s much easier to start out youngsters on the right track than to get them there later in life.

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