Observer-Reporter: Editorial: Pennsylvania needs to increase pre-K funding

February 1, 2016

Around this time last year, there was a raft of depressing headlines about Pennsylvania falling behind the rest of the nation when it comes to pre-K education, and the detrimental effects on the commonwealth’s children.

Well, 12 months have marched by, and the headlines remain depressing and so familiar they make you feel like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day” – Pennsylvania is falling behind the rest of the nation when it comes to pre-K education.

The effects? No change there. Still detrimental.

In early January, the advocacy group Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children released a report, “The Case for Pre-K in PA,” which found only one in six children across the commonwealth are enrolled in a pre-K program. Such programs are available to only 26 percent of 4-year-olds in Pennsylvania, the report stated, compared with 94 percent in neighboring West Virginia and 42 percent in Maryland, another Keystone State neighbor.

More than likely, the Pennsylvania children who are enrolled in pre-K programs come from affluent families where the emphasis on learning starts early.

According to another study, this one released in early 2015 by the Education Week Research Center, the overwhelming majority of eligible Pennsylvania children who come from households earning more than $100,000 per year – two out of three, in fact – are enrolled in a quality pre-K program.

By contrast, only about 20 percent of children in families earning less than $20,000 annually are in a pre-K program.

Shortchanging pre-K now could cost us all down the road.

Each dollar invested in pre-K programs delivers a sevenfold return, advocates argue, pointing to the increased tax revenues that come with having a better-educated populace working in professions with greater earnings potential, as well as reduced spending on social services and special education.

Grant Oliphant, president of the Heinz Endowments, was recently quoted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as saying money spent on early childhood education are “some of the most effective dollars that we’ve invested.”

He continued, “We can see over a 20-year time frame that those investments in kids have had a profound impact on their ability to learn and their later success in school.

That translates eventually into their success in life, their success in the workforce, their success as citizens of the commonwealth.”

The stalled Pennsylvania budget has left funding for pre-K programs in a holding pattern.

Read the full editorial here.