Delaware County Daily Times: Guest Column: Why boosting pre-K spending is a good investment

June 2, 2016
By Francesca Darquea, M.D., Brittany Davis-Schaffer, M.D., and Sam Master, D.O., Times Guest Columnists

In our work in pediatric medicine at the Crozer-Chester Medical Center, we see first-hand how challenges in a child’s growth and development — if left unaddressed — can limit opportunities, including the opportunity to learn.

That’s why we want to see Pennsylvania invest more in high-quality pre-K programs in the state budget. The years before a child enters kindergarten are a critical window for healthy cognitive, physical, social and emotional development, and the circumstances and experiences children have during these early years can shape their health and success for a lifetime. Quality pre-K helps put our children on a path to a lifetime of good health and success.

Unfortunately, too many young children face obstacles that hinder healthy development, including the effects of poverty and other adverse conditions beyond their control, which can fuel “toxic stress” – the type of extreme, persistent stress that can actually alter a child’s brain architecture in negative ways. Research shows one of the most effective ways to lessen the impact of toxic stress is through caring relationships and stable, supportive environments. High-quality pre-K programs provide such an environment, enabling young children to learn and develop free from the adverse conditions that can create persistent stress and anxiety.

High-quality pre-K programs not only prepare children for success in school and in life, but they also have been shown to promote good health in childhood and into adulthood.

Research shows high-quality pre-K improves language, literacy and math skills as children enter kindergarten, reduces special education placements, and increases the likelihood of high school graduation and college enrollment. From a health perspective, children who benefit from high-quality early learning programs tend to have better diets and exercise routines as adults, lower rates of smoking or substance abuse and lower risks of diabetes, stroke or heart disease. These health-related benefits not only help the child, they also help society by lowering health care costs, especially costs from chronic illnesses or disease.

Despite these many benefits for our children and our communities, the majority of 3- and 4-year-olds in Pennsylvania lack access to high-quality pre-K programs. According to the statewide Pre-K for PA campaign, more than 9,300 3- and 4-year-olds in Delaware County alone lack access to high-quality pre-K. We can and should address this unmet need.

That’s why we – along with the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics – support the call for Pennsylvania leaders to enact a state budget that increases funding for high-quality pre-K by $90 million in fiscal 2016-17 so an additional 7,400 children can benefit.

Read the full column here.