LancasterOnline: Sturla, Cutler receive 2017 Pre-K Champion awards for efforts supporting early childhood education investments
April 18, 2017 by Jonas Fortune

Two Pennsylvania lawmakers from Lancaster County were honored Monday for their support to expand investment in early childhood education across the state.

Pre-K for PA, a statewide campaign to bolster early childhood education, honored Democratic state Rep. Mike Sturla and Republican state Rep. Bryan Cutler with its 2017 Pre-K Champion award at an event at Lancaster Recreation Commission.

Pre-kindergarten education focuses on the developmentally sensitive ages of 3 and 4 as children prepare socially and cognitively for life and school, said Bruce Clash, state director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids and a Pre-K for PA advocate.

“High-quality pre-K involves a highly qualified teacher with a bachelor’s degree that understands child development, that can identify kids with learning disabilities,” Clash said. “Identifying them and getting them the help they need early gets them back on grade level with their peers later on.”

However, budgetary issues have limited the number of children who can participate in state-funded programs, Clash said.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2017-18 $32.3 billion state budget proposal includes $65 million in additional funding for the Pre-K Counts program and an additional $10 million for the Head Start Supplemental Assistance program.

State House Republican leaders countered Wolf’s spending plan with a $31.5 billion budget proposal that trims the governor’s proposed additional $75 million for early childhood education to $25 million.

Sturla is the Democratic policy committee chairman, and Cutler is the House majority whip.

At issue

Statewide, of the 300,460 3- and 4-year-olds who live in Pennsylvania, 112,900 of those who are eligible do not have access to the 2,431 eligible state-funded pre-K locations, according to Pre-K for PA.

 Of the 1,940 3- to 4-year-olds who live in Sturla’s 96th District, 828 of those who are eligible do not have access to the 19 eligible state-funded pre-K locations in Lancaster city, according to Pre-K for PA.

“This isn’t really a matter of there aren’t enough facilities. The facilities just can’t afford to do it for free,” Sturla said.

“It’s going to cost some money now and going to cost some money for 20 years,” Sturla said. “But in the end, that payoff is such that we can pay for it with saved prison costs, additional revenue from people actually getting decent jobs and being trained and well-educated and well-adjusted to community and socialization and things like that.”

In Cutler’s 100th District in southern Lancaster County, of the 1,878 3- to 4-year-olds who live there, 1,330 of those who are eligible do not have access to its four eligible state-funded pre-K locations, according to Pre-K for PA.

“The truth is, even though some folks may qualify for it, they may not want to participate in it,” Cutler said. “Perhaps they use a different program that is not state-qualified, but is run through their church or something like that.

“We have to recognize that everybody might have a different direction they want to go in,” he said. “Be mindful of that, but for the kids who want that opportunity, we should do our best to work toward that.”