Main Line Times: As I See it: Pre-K Counts program needs a no-nonsense budget now!

By Mary Jo Daley
For Main Line Media News

Summer is over and our children are back to school. The pictures in our social media feeds are all smiles. But this back-to-school season unfortunately is being affected by the peripheral impact of partisan politics in Harrisburg, which is now sending waves of uncertainty through state-funded pre-K classrooms across the state.

While teachers and students are getting back to the classrooms, many state-funded pre-K and Head Start classrooms are obtaining needed costly financing in order to open their doors to young learners; some have even been forced to close.

It’s difficult to deny that an early education can play an integral role in many aspects of child’s life. It is especially true for those children whose parents do not have the means to pay quality pre-K tuition. A child’s brain is developed 90 percent by the time they reach the age of 5. Exposing a young child to a classroom setting, social interactions, greater vocabulary and basic classroom skills prior to kindergarten has been proven to reduce the likelihood of repeated grades, special education and later incarceration, while also increasing graduation and college acceptance rates.

Many children start school behind their peers because the economic realities of early learning do not favor them. In the Colonial School District that I represent, for example, 193 students do not have access to high-quality publicly funded pre-K. These students do not get a do-over. Shouldn’t these children have the same opportunities afforded their friends and neighbors as they start school?

Gov. Wolf proposed a $120 million increase in early education funding in his initial budget. That amount, just a small percentage of the $29 billion budget, would provide high-quality early education opportunities for 14,000 additional 3- and 4-year-olds across Pennsylvania. It’s a good start, however nearly 200,000 of our 3- and 4-year-olds in PA currently do not have access to these educational opportunities. If we don’t start now, with this small portion of children, we’ll never reach the point where all of Pennsylvania’s young children are receiving this huge learning opportunity.

There’s no rewind button when it comes to the education of a growing child. Let’s get back to work before back to school is further ruined for more of our youngest learners.

State Rep. Mary Jo Daley is in her second term in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives serving the 148th District.

The op-ed can be read here.