Erie Times Editorial: Why PA Needs to Invest in Pre-K

By: Sam Talarico

The path to educational success for Pennsylvania’s children begins even before the doors open on the first day of kindergarten. There is already strong agreement across partisan and geographic lines that expanding access to high-quality pre-K is a smart, cost-effective way to ensure all children enter school ready to learn. Now the time has come for action.

Parents and educators see high-quality pre-K as an effective tool to improve school readiness and long-term student success. Law enforcement officials see it as a strategy to help at-risk youth avoid the criminal justice system. Business leaders see evidence of the proven benefits and know quality pre-K is a smart investment.

And yet, despite all of this support, only 1 in 6 of Pennsylvania’s 3- and 4-year-olds benefit from publicly funded, high-quality pre-K, leaving more than 200,000 young learners missing out statewide, including more than 4,200 here in Erie County. We need to improve on this sad statistic.

I am among those who believe if we want to build a stronger Pennsylvania, increased access to high-quality pre-K must be a building block for that foundation. That’s why I have joined the statewide Pre-K for PA Leadership Council, made up of more than 100 leading voices in Pennsylvania business, education, law enforcement, civic engagement and even the military, all of whom recognize the many benefits of high-quality pre-K. Pre-K for PA is a nonpartisan, issue-focused campaign that is working to make high-quality pre-K accessible to every 3- and 4-year-old in the state.

High-quality pre-K is an educational, moral and societal imperative essential to our economic success. A fiscal analysis found that if Pennsylvania funded pre-K for all 3- and 4-year olds, the commonwealth’s investment would generate $800 million in additional goods and services and create nearly 28,000 jobs statewide in the short term. The long-term benefits are even greater, with every dollar invested in pre-K returning up to $17 million in savings and benefits to the commonwealth.

As support for Pre-K for PA’s vision grows in this region and in communities across Pennsylvania, it is encouraging to see that so many of the state’s newly elected and re-elected leaders are committed to strengthening our schools and early learning facilities as a way to elevate our workforce and communities. Now that commitment needs to turn into action.

When Gov.-elect Tom Wolf announced his education transition team recently, the Leadership Council urged the newly formed team to focus on early learning as it crafts the new governor’s education policy.

In January, as the new Democratic governor and Republican-led majority in the state Legislature get to work, I hope they put partisan politics aside and work together to ensure an investment in high-quality pre-K is at the top of Pennsylvania’s priorities. We know it’s a smart investment that pays off for every Pennsylvanian, and we can’t defer such an important investment any longer.

SAM TALARICO is a teacher at Iroquois High School and president of the Northwest Region of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (