Lancaster Online: 3 new pre-K classrooms for Lafayette elementary, leaders push for more funding

November 8, 2016

Pedro Rivera squatted on a multicolored carpet, chanting an alphabet rap with 20 pre-kindergarten students in a new classroom at Lafeyette Elementary School in Lancaster city.

“When I say ‘K,’ you say ‘kuh,’ ” the Pennsylvania Secretary of Education said.

Rivera joined a panel of local and state leaders at the School District of Lancaster school Monday for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new classrooms and a roundtable discussion on pre-K funding.

The three new classrooms provide spots for a total of 60 students. They were made possible by the inclusion of $30 million in additional pre-K funding in the 2016-17 state budget.

“I’m really proud to see great programs happen here at Lafayette,” said Rivera, who was SDL superintendent from 2008 to 2015.

Funding a classroom for 20 pre-K students costs $170,000, according to current SDL Superintendent Damaris Rau.

Testing results have shown that 83 percent of pre-K students are prepared for kindergarten, but only 37 percent are prepared without pre-K, she said.

ldquo;Pre-K education has to become our mission,” Rau said.

There are currently 392 pre-K students in the district with 400 more on the waiting list.

Only 17 percent of eligible 3- and 4-year-olds in Lancaster County have access to publicly funded, high-quality pre-K, said Randy Patterson, director of Economic Development and Neighborhood Revitalization for the City of Lancaster and board chair for the United Way of Lancaster County.

During the roundtable discussion, local leaders discussed the benefit that pre-K education brings to education, crime reduction, the military and business.

“A vital city has to have a vital education program,” Lancaster city Mayor Rick Gray said.

Studies have shown advancement in education, better suitability to society and reduction in crime begins with early education, he said.

Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said he sees many crime statistics, but the best statistic is “the one I don’t see.”

“I would be happy if the results here put me out of a job,” Stedman said.

Stedman said about half of state prison inmates have not graduated from high school. He added that the annual cost for incarcerating an inmate in state prison is $45,000, and that it currently costs the state about $2.3 billion annually.

“I think we’d rather pay for an education than an incarceration,” he said.

Gov. Tom Wolf pledged to introduce an “ambitious” early childhood education plan in the 2017-18 budget at a round table discussion with state and Philadelphia leaders last week.

While it’s premature to state the total amount Wolf will request, spokesman Jeff Sheridan said, he is committed to continued investment in education at all levels.

“Education is his priority,” Sheridan said. “When we provide access to early childhood education, students perform better in life.”

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