Lancaster Online: Editorial: On this day after the election, we turn our attention to other concerns

November 9, 2016 by LNP Editorial Board

Voters went to the polls Tuesday to elect the 45th president of the United States. We have approximately 730 days until the next presidential election campaign begins.

Do you hear that?

The blessed silence, we mean.

No more screaming political ads on the TV and radio. No more heart-poundingly ominous warnings about the fate that awaits us if we don’t vote for a particular candidate.

Let’s enjoy it while it lasts, because campaigning seems to have become the new American pastime, one with an exhaustingly long season and no all-star breaks.

So for just one day at least, let’s turn our attention to the world outside of politics.

It turns out there is one.

A great pre-K push

Local and state leaders gathered Monday at Lafayette Elementary in the School District of Lancaster to celebrate the opening of three new prekindergarten classes.

The new classrooms will provide spots for 60 students. As LNP reported Tuesday, they were made possible by the inclusion of $30 million in additional pre-K funding in the 2016-17 state budget.

It costs $170,000 to fund a classroom for 20 pre-K students, according to city schools Superintendent Damaris Rau.

But the benefits are enormous.

When you test preschoolers who have attended pre-K, 83 percent are prepared for kindergarten, Rau noted. When you test preschoolers who haven’t attended pre-K, only 37 percent are prepared for kindergarten.

Research shows that 90 percent of brain development takes place in the first five years of a child’s life. How much a child learns in those formative early years — and, in particular, how great is his or her exposure to language — can determine how that child does in school and ultimately in life.

So it’s wonderful that three more pre-K classrooms have opened in Lancaster city. But there’s still a way to go in meeting the early education needs of our children.

Four hundred students in the School District of Lancaster remain on the pre-K 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 United Way of Lancaster County.

The implications of failing to provide children with the education they need are far-reaching.

As Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman pointed out, about half of state prison inmates have not graduated from high school. The annual cost of incarcerating someone in state prison is $45,000; incarceration costs the state about $2.3 billion annually.

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

We agree. Funding early education is the fiscally smart choice. And it happens to be the morally right one, too — because every child, no matter the ZIP code in which he or she resides, deserves to get the best possible start in life.

Read the editorial here.