Lancaster, PA (June 1, 2021) – Community Action Partnership of Lancaster County welcomed PA State Senator Scott Martin 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 Senator Martin about the continued need to serve the more than 7,000 eligible children across Lancaster County who still lack access to this once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity.
“I absolutely support efforts to increase capacity that we need and right now they’re needed more than ever,” Senator Martin said. “We can’t get a lot of people back to work if they don’t have good options related to their young children, you can count on my support.”
Stacy Lewis, Director at Head Start Programs Community Action Partnership 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 Lieutenant General (Ret.) Dennis L. Benchoff, U.S. Army, Robert Krasne, Chairman & CEO at Steinman Communications, Steve Doster, State Director at Mission: Readiness, Kim Early, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy at PennAEYC, Blair Hyatt, Executive Director at Pennsylvania Head Start Association, and Jan Schwartz, Outreach Director at PennAEYC.
“Prior to the pandemic, approximately one in four children had access to a funded pre-k high quality program, and what we know now is that since the pandemic we are actually at a net loss for childcare providers in Lancaster County.” said Lewis. “While some new centers have opened, those that have called close their doors, either on an interim basis or permanently, still outnumbers the new programs, so we are currently down fifteen licensed providers.
Speakers made it clear that despite the challenges associated with COVID, pre-k is working and is supported by the Lancaster County community. Both Robert Krasne and General Benchoff participated in the tour and discussion. From two different perspectives, they both 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.
“Early childhood education addresses two issues coincidentally. First, it gets Pennsylvania’s children off to a great start in life, helps make them lifelong learners, and prepares them to be great in school and beyond. At the same time, by enabling young children to go into early childhood education programs, it enables their parents or caregivers to get time back so that they can reenter the work force,” Krasne said. “You can invest in the future workforce and invest in expanding the present workforce.”
Enthusiasm for early education was echoed by General Benchoff. “We see the lack of qualifications for military service or any other type of good job that individuals like to do once they graduate from high school as being better addressed by early childhood education and preschool programs,” Benchoff said.
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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