Lancaster Online: Report: 80 percent of at-risk Lancaster County children miss out on high-quality pre-k programs
October 6, 2017 by Alex Geli

Four-fifths of eligible Lancaster County children don’t attend high-quality, publicly funded pre-k programs, a new report says.

The report, produced by the Pennsylvania Principals Association in partnership with the Pre-K for PA Campaign, reveals that many of the most at-risk students — those from low-income households — are missing out on pivotal pre-k opportunities. That’s despite near-unanimous public support of pre-k services among elementary school principals.

To minimize that, officials are requesting state funding increases of $62 million annually for five years to expand pre-k access statewide.

“Pre-k works,” said Joan Benso, president and chief executive officer of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, a founding member of the Pre-K for PA Campaign. “Decades of research has proven it and this survey adds the validation of Pennsylvania’s elementary principals.”

Surveyed were 1,300 principals, 99 percent of which said high-quality pre-k was an important tool for preparing children for kindergarten, particularly children more at-risk of falling behind.

Elizabeth R. Martin Elementary School Principal Barbara Andrews was one of those surveyed.

“In my school, I see the long-lasting benefits of high-quality pre-k,” she said. “It provides a foundation which enables these children to be confident and successful in their journey through school and in their personal lives as well.”

School District of Lancaster is one of the largest pre-k providers in the county, with programs at Martin School as well as Burrowes, Carter and MacRae, Fulton, King, Lafayette, Price, Washington and Wickersham elementary schools.

Yet, according to Pre-K for PA, more than 1,000 eligible 3- and 4-year-olds still miss out on those programs. Fifty-five percent of eligible children, in other words, are underserved.

The countywide percentage is 80 percent. Statewide, it’s 64 percent.

Most Lancaster County schools don’t offer pre-k programs. Several —such as Pequea Valley, Conestoga Valley, Cocalico and Manheim Township — partner with third parties to offer publicly funded pre-k services.

Despite those third parties often being private community organizations, they receive financial support from the state’s Pre-K Counts or Head Start Supplemental Assistance programs.

Community Action Partnership is one of the county’s leading Head Start organizations. According to its 2015-16 report, CAP served 710 children and 758 families in Lancaster County. In addition to closing the achievement gap in math, language and literacy skills, the program provides health screenings; nutritional meals; educational field trips; emotional, social and behavioral support; and more.

“Children that experience high-quality pre-kindergarten see themselves as capable learners and walk through the kindergarten door not just ready but eager to keep learning,” Stacy Lewis, CAP’s director of Head Start programs, said.

Children that don’t experience high-quality pre-k are said to be at an unfair disadvantage when they enter kindergarten, especially those from low-income households.

That’s why programs such as Pre-K Counts and Head Start exist — to help economically disadvantaged families send their children to kindergarten on proper footing.

But the Commonwealth can do more, the report states.

An additional $310 million in state funding for pre-k by 2022 will ensure that every at-risk child has access to high-quality pre-k programs, the report says. An additional $100 million would allow middle-class families more easily afford high-quality pre-k programs.

Read the full article here.