Bucks County Courier Times: Op-ed: Commitment to Pre-k Education Pays Big Dividends

February 26, 2016

“It gets late early out there.”

Yogi Berra said it about the conditions at Yankee Stadium, but it sure sounds like he was talking about early childhood education.

At United Way of Bucks County, we work to advance the quality of early education and provide hundreds of prekindergarten scholarships through your generous contributions. UW Bucks has a long history of investing in early learning and school readiness. It is one of our top priorities. In 2016, we are convening a panel to help guide and deepen our commitment to this area.

At Quakertown Community School District, our board demonstrated its commitment to early childhood education — and a great start for our community’s children — by offering full-day kindergarten to all students who are not “ready to learn” at grade level. Now, through the Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts grant, Quakertown is partnering with LifeSpan School and Day Care to give low- and moderate-income children access to a high quality, full-day, preschool program at no cost to their families.

We invest for one reason: It “gets late early.” By age 5, 90 percent of a child’s brain is developed. It is a small window of opportunity with huge possibilities and potential, but it closes quickly. We also know high-quality pre-K is not accessible to many of our young learners who need it. Bucks County is home to 14,000 3- and 4-year-olds. Only a small fraction of these children are enrolled in publicly funded pre-K programs. Many of those missing out are those at greatest risk of academic failure. In fact, last year, 4,446 kids in Bucks County lacked access to a publicly funded, high-quality pre-K program.

The return on investment is significant. We know from research (and from the results of our practice) that high-quality pre-K is one of the best investments we can make to strengthen our community and save taxpayers in the long term. It significantly improves school readiness and increases the likelihood of high school graduation. Long term, this investment in early childhood education gives us better educated citizens — adults who are ready to be contributors to Bucks County.

In fact, every dollar spent on pre-K saves $7 in remediation and other school-related costs. It’s a win-win.

Pennsylvania has taken its eye off the ball when it comes to the benefits of pre-K. Five years ago, the state reduced its funding of pre-K by 50 percent. There is still a significant funding gap. In the meantime, the United Way and other Bucks County community-based organizations have stepped up to attempt to close the gap. However, local support and effort alone is not enough to make up the difference. We need help.

Read the full op-ed here.