Citizens’ Voice: Event rallies support for pre-K funding
By Denise Allabaugh  June 14, 2016

WILKES-BARRE — Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry Secretary Kathy Manderino says more funding is needed to support early childhood education.

Manderino said expanded early childhood education can ensure people gain needed job skills for the 21st century.

She joined military leaders and officials from the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce at a press conference today at the Innovation Center on South Main Street. The event aimed to show support for Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposal to increase funding for expanded access to high-quality pre-kindergarten programs.

U.S. Navy Rear Admiral (Ret.) Thomas Wilson, who represents Misson: Readiness, said he is urging lawmakers to include a $90 million expansion proposal for high-quality pre-kindergarten in the 2016-2017 budget.

That would allow 7,400 more Pennsylvania children to receive early childhood education and 6,200 would receive pre-kindergarten for a full year instead of half a year, he said.

Wolf has proposed an increase of $60 million in the 2016-2017 budget for early childhood education, but negotiations are still ongoing in Harrisburg, Manderino said.

Another $30 million was approved in the 2015-2016 budget for the first six months of the year for pre-kindergarten programs throughout the state.

Officials highlighted a new ReadyNation/Mission: Readiness report that details how high-quality pre-kindergarten is important to developing skills in science, engineering, technology and math.

According to the report, 3,517 children in Luzerne County and 1,775 children in Lackawanna County are living in poverty and do not have access to publicly funded high-quality pre-kindergarten. That means 72 percent of eligible children ages 3 and 4 in Luzerne County and 50 percent in Lackawanna County do not have access.

As a result, Manderino said a gap in skills in science, engineering, technology and math could have a serious impact on the economy in years to come.

She said she has talked to employers and manufacturing industry representatives throughout the state who are looking at significant numbers of retirements of employees over age 50. She said they worry about the talent recruitment pool available to replace those workers.

She cited studies that show early childhood education is important in terms of graduation rates, crime rates and ultimately attaining “jobs that pay.”

“Those early pre-K years are the most formative years of a child’s life,” she said. “It’s clear that early learning could have a tremendous impact on Pennsylvania’s workforce.”

Mission: Readiness formed in response to data from the Department of Defense indicating that 72 percent of young Pennsylvanians between the ages of 17 and 24 can’t join the military because they either lack proper education, are physically unfit or have criminal records.

“Like business leaders, we are concerned about recruiting talent and skills we need to ensure our national defense,” said Major General (Ret.) Joseph Perugino of the U.S. Army, former commander of the 28th Infrantry Division and a representative of Mission; Readiness.

Wico van Genderen, CEO of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber, said the chamber is pleased to partner with Mission: Readiness, a non-partisan national security organization made up of more than 600 retired admirals, generals and other military leaders calling for investments in America’s children.

“Early learning has an important role in assuring that we have the bright, skilled workforce that we need in the 21st Century,” van Genderen said. “We know that careers in science, technology, engineering and math-related fields will be a major driving force in our economy.”

Careers in these fields are expected to grow exponentially and he said the Innovation Center has become a hub for technology companies. The center and Wilkes Enterprise Center — in the Luzerne Bank building on Public Square, house 36 start-up companies — employing more than 200 people, he said.

“Companies like the ones found in the building and across the street need employees with strong-grounded STEM backgrounds,” van Genderen.

Read the full article here.