Bucks County Courier Times: Former Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley and others press for more prekindergarten programs
February 1, 2017 by Chris English

Prekindergarten programs for children from low-income families are sorely lacking in Bucks County and the state, former Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley and other pre-K advocates said during a press conference Wednesday morning in Upper Southampton.

Gathering at the Jolly Toddlers Early Education Center on Second Street Pike, Cawley and others said a healthy infusion of public money and other pre-K support is needed so that families who meet income guidelines can send their children to quality programs like those offered at Jolly Toddlers.

Joan Benso, president and CEO of the nonprofit Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, said research done by her group showed that 112,900 children in the state and 3,900 in Bucks County currently qualify for publicly funded pre-K but are not getting it because of a lack of state or other public funding.

Fixing that situation would mean a better future for thousands of children across the county and state, Benso and others at the press conference said.

“We are looking for a sizeable investment in pre-K in the governor’s budget address (on Tuesday) that moves us toward allocating enough public funds ($340 million) by fiscal year 2020-2021 to ensure that all eligible children have access to high quality pre-K,” she said. “It is an investment in our future.”

Cawley, who now lives in Wrightstown and is president and CEO of the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, said his adopted son, Nick, benefited greatly from quality pre-K programs that Cawley and his wife, Suzanne, were able to send him to.

“This is a very personal effort for me,” said Cawley of his pre-K advocacy.

“Nick was very introverted but the pre-K seems to have unlocked a future for him and he’s now a reasonably well adjusted fourth-grader at St. Andrew (Catholic School in Newtown Township),” he continued. “Nick got lucky, but we need to make sure that all kids in Pennsylvania who need it get lucky. Quality pre-K programs give children a leg up educationally and also a chance to be social, and also gives educators an early opportunity to identify anti-social behavior and deal with it.”

Bolstering pre-K programs across the state would make for more solid citizens of the future, Cawley said.

“You can either invest today or be taxed two decades down the road for things like increased corrections system and welfare costs,” he said.

Christine Matik, supervisor of curriculum and instruction for the Centennial School District, said the district’s soon-to-come full-day kindergarten program is going to be great but will be even better with better prepared students entering it from quality pre-K programs.

“All research tells us a strong early foundation sets a trajectory for success,” she said.

Benso added that “military leaders, law enforcement officials, philanthropic groups, pediatricians and many state and local lawmakers have also talked about research that shows pre-K can make a difference. It can reduce grade repetition, special education placements, dropout rates and ultimately save the commonwealth money.”

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