Main Line Times: Groups join to promote quality pre-K education
By Linda Stein June 20, 2016

Narberth >> A group of business leaders and retired military leaders joined with a state representative and educators at a press conference to garner support for $90 million in additional funding for quality preschool education to improve Pennsylvania children’s math and science learning.

The group cited a new report “STEM and Early Childhood—When Skills Take Root” from Mission: Readiness and ReadyNation that highlights some alarming statistics, including that 52 percent of Pennsylvania employers say they have trouble hiring people with adequate skills, training and education and 56 percent of employers expect that problem to get worse. Also, some $188.9 million is spent on retraining employees yearly in the state and 2/3 of Penn. 8th graders are not proficient in math and science. And 28 percent of students who enter the state university system need remedial courses. The rate for low income students is 40 percent.

James Waddington, director of strategic marketing solutions with Lockheed Martin and member of the PA Early Learning Investment Commission, said his corporation, and many others need people with good STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills. And with 90 percent of the human brain developing by age 5, kids can’t wait until kindergarten to learn those skills.

“The bottom line is, these investments in pre-K are investments in the future workforce,” said Waddington, noting that some 120,000 children ages 3 and 4 do not have access to pre-K in Pennsylvania.

“Our state must do better,” he said

Bernard Dagenais, president and CEO of the Main Line Chamber of Commerce, said local companies need tech savvy employees and the lack of those people is a topic that often comes up. Trained workers are needed for the region to compete, he said. So they either spend money training their employees or bringing workers in from out-of-state, he said. And STEM-based jobs, such as computer science and healthcare, are expected to grow by 20 to 37 percent nationally.

Steven Bradley, chairman of the African American Chamber of Commerce of PA, NJ and DE, also spoke, saying it was necessary to start early to “address deficiencies.”

“The first three to five years are crucial in children’s development,” said Bradley. The young brain is building neural synapses at 700 per second.

“Social factors and lack of pre-K (leave) disadvantaged children 18 months behind at kindergarten,” said Bradley. “It’s hard for them to catch up.”

He added, “It is important that we empower our children to achieve success.”

Retired Major General Wesley Craig, former commander of the Pennsylvania National Guard, said that Mission: Readiness began when the military learned that so many young people did not have the education needed to enlist.

Some 72 percent of 17 to 24 year olds in Pennsylvania are not able to enlist because they can’t meet the military standards, he said.

“That’s a terrible, terrible thing when you think about it,” he said. “We are increasingly reliant on technology.” Craig then cited a long list of sophisticated weapons now employed, from laser-guided weapons to drones.

“It’s not your father’s tank,” Craig said.

Thomas Wilson, retired rear admiral, said that while the military provides quality childcare more children in civilian life need access to quality pre-K programs and that Pennsylvania lags behind neighboring states in this area. In Montgomery County, 85 percent of children whose families are income eligible or 6,300 children do not have access to quality pre-K, he said. Also, about 120,000 children in the state are in the same situation.

While some people question the cost, “failing to invest in these children will have a far higher long-term cost than sending them to these programs…What we can’t afford is the price tag of these children failing to reach their full potential.”

Wilson added, “Mission: Readiness is supporting the governor’s request for $90 million more for pre-K in the 2016-17 budget.”

State Rep. Mary Jo Daley, D-148, also spoke. She said the $90 million is “absolutely essential” and would fund pre-kindergarten for some 7,400 more children. Another 6,200 would be able to go to pre-K for a full year instead of a half year.

Democratic women in the state House wrote a letter in support and as mothers and grandmothers they know how important early childhood education is, she said.

Read the full story here.