ERIE, PA (May 6, 2021) – Pre-K Counts provider Early Connections welcomed PA State Representative Curt Sonney 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 Rep. Sonney about the continued need to serve the almost 2,500 eligible children across Erie County who still lack access to this once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity.

“Investing in education has always been a top priority,” Rep. Sonney said. “It is really, more than anything, just helping these young children with the social and emotional aspects of being in school and learning how to be accepting of others and learning how to listen to the teacher and there’s no doubt that’s critical.”

Michelle Harkens, Executive Director of Early Connections, 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 Erie County District Attorney Jack Daneri, Nick Scott, Jr., Vice-President of Scott Enterprises and a Commissioner on Pennsylvania’s Early Learning Investment Commission, Kim Early, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy for Pennsylvania Association for the Education of Young Children (PennAEYC), Bruce Clash, State Director of Fight Crime: Invest In Kids, and Tracy Weaver, Outreach Coordinator, PennAEYC.

“We have our rock stars, our staff, and so many of our childcare staff throughout our community that are dedicated to serving the children and their families,” Harkens said. “There has been funding, but that really isn’t sustainable when we look at the cost of what is needed now because of the pandemic to keep our staff and our children safe.”

Speakers made it clear that despite the challenges associated with COVID, pre-k is working and is supported by the Erie community. Both Nick Scott, Jr. and District Attorney Jack Daneri participated in the tour and discussion. From two very 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.

“I think all success starts with a good foundation, and obviously, the start of these kids’ lives is so important,” Scott, Jr. said. “Generally, people who can make great decisions, and have a great future help our company, but they need a good start, so I think early education is a key to the future of our business.”

Enthusiasm for early education was echoed by Mr. Daneri. “I think we all realize the importance of investing in the youth,” District Attorney Daneri said. “I don’t think anything could be more important than that latching on to and investing in their future, as soon as possible. If that means increase in funding, then absolutely that is money well spent.”

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

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