Bucks County Herald: Schweiker, Rendell visit Bucks to advocate for state pre-K education funding
January 24, 2018 By Jodi Spiegel Arthur

Today in Pennsylvania, just over one third of the children eligible for quality pre-kindergarten education receive it while the remaining 64 percent – 112,000 children – don’t.

“It has to change,” former Gov. Ed Rendell said in a press conference during which he and former Gov. Mark Schweiker spoke about the need for pre-K education, and for candidates running for office in Pennsylvania to make it a priority.

The two former governors, Rendell a Democrat and Schweiker a Republican, spoke at the Bucks County Intermediate Unit in Doylestown Jan. 17, at a press conference organized by the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children and Pre-K for PA.

According to “Pre-K Works, So Why Not PA?” a recently released report, Pennsylvania ranks 18th out of 30 states that make an investment in high-quality, publicly funded pre-K education. That’s despite the state increasing its investment by $30 million in the current fiscal year to $225 million.

By comparison, New Jersey ranks first in high-quality, pre-K spending at $3,227 per capita for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, compared to $792 per capita for Pennsylvania.

“We’ve been at this now for 16 years, and we’re making progress,” Schweiker said of advocating for pre-K funding. Nevertheless, he added, “We can do better.”

To reach all of the children who would benefit most, the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children and Pre-K for PA say state policymakers should invest at least $85 million in the 2018-2019 fiscal year to double the expansion of the last three years and grow the investment with an additional $225 million by the 2020-2021 fiscal year to serve all at-risk children.

“It’s time for Pennsylvania’s leaders to follow two of Pennsylvania’s greatest governors and step up for pre-K,” said Joan Benso, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children. She said Bucks County Intermediate Unit Director Mark Hoffman said the IU could serve twice as many children if it had the funding.

Schweiker and Rendell said spending money on high-quality pre-K programs pays off in terms of lower costs to educate children in grades 3 and 4 and beyond, since less remedial education is needed, and in good-paying jobs in Pennsylvania for those children when they become adults.

“This is not just some feel-good pursuit,” Schweiker said.

“To the leadership in Harrisburg,” he said, “we ask that you look closely at this.” He added that he hoped the candidates also would see the connection between providing high-quality pre-K and the future success of children and pledge their support.

“It’s not the private sector’s job,” Rendell said. “Educating our children is one of the government’s core responsibilities. There should be no child in Pennsylvania that doesn’t get high-quality pre-K education.

“The education we give our kids today determines the quality of our workforce 10-15 years down the road.”
Schweiker said he recognizes there is a strong sense of fiscal restraint and stewardship among legislators but believes they can be convinced investing in pre-K makes financial sense.

Rendell said a severance tax on natural gas drilling “would basically pay” the $200 million to $300 million for pre-K education for the children who are not currently receiving it. “I propose we pass a severance tax and put 100 percent toward pre-K education,” he added.

“People don’t care about raising taxes if they get something for it,” Rendell said.

“It’s time to elect people who have the courage to invest in things that are important to us.”

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