Pittsburgh, PA (May 20, 2021) – Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s Pre-K Counts Program and Bright Horizons at UPMC Passavant welcomed PA State Representative Rob Mercuri and local leaders today for a virtual tour and conversation on the challenges of providing pre-k during the COVID-19 pandemic. Local leaders spoke to Rep. Mercuri about the continued need to serve the more than 6,000 eligible children across Allegheny County who still lack access to this once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity.

“Those years between zero and five are critical,” Rep. Mercuri said. “The intent and the result of the programs of pre-k put young people on the right path and the return on investment from those early years are very meaningful.”

Chris Rodgick, Program Director at Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s Pre-K Counts offered a glimpse into life at an early learning center during COVID—describing both visually and verbally how providers have been supporting our children, families, and businesses during this unique year. Joining her in the discussion were Jeanette Casciato, Assistant Director at Allegheny IU Pre-K Counts, Heather Pfister, Center Director at Bright Horizons at UPMC Passavant, Jake Witherell, Chief Operating Officer at Schell Games, Cristina Codario, Public Policy Regional Coordinator at Trying Together, and Lindsey Ramsey, Public Policy Regional Coordinator at Trying Together.

“These children are meeting or exceeding widely held expectations, so that proves that having class with each other in a preschool setting, mixed age grouping, with trained professional staff really does support the excellent work that we want children to have before they go to kindergarten.” said Rodgick.

Speakers made it clear that despite the challenges associated with COVID, pre-k is working and is supported by the Allegheny County community. Jake Witherell, who participated in the tour and discussion, offered his unique business perspective, and agreed that high quality pre-k promotes not just the hard skills like math, reading, writing and science—but the increasingly important soft skills—communication, collaboration, and critical thinking.

“I’ve never understood why more focus isn’t on high quality early learning and putting money there because that’s the best investment,” Witherell said. “These high quality early learning programs are key in cementing those skills early in a child’s life.”

A new study by the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill confirmed that the commonwealth’s investment in pre-k is paying dividends for the children fortunate enough to access pre-k through Pennsylvania’s Pre-K Counts program. In language and math skills, the study showed that these kids outperformed their kindergarten peers who did not enjoy access—an advantage that equated to four to five months of learning gains, which is a substantial difference in development at that age.

Governor Wolf’s proposed 2021-22 PA budget includes a $25 million increase for Pre-K Counts and $5 million increase for the Head Start State Supplemental Assistance Program, which continues the tradition of expanding access to high quality pre-k. This new funding will allow 3,271 additional children to enroll in these high-quality early learning programs.

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. Our vision is that every 3- and 4-year-old in Pennsylvania will have access to high-quality pre-k. For more information www.prekforpa.org.  

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