Patriot News: As We See it: When They Talk Budget, Wolf and Lawmakers Can’t Forget Early Childhood Education
By The Members of Pre-K for Pa.
The sharp elbows of politics can sometimes be bruising, however unintentional the bump. As Pennsylvania’s budget impasse stretches into its third month, across the commonwealth the impact of political gridlock is beginning to be felt.
As PennLive’s Jan Murphy notes in “Cash flow woes: Schools feeling the pinch of the Pa. budget impasse” (PennLive, Aug. 31), small business owners and non-profits who operate high-quality Pre-K Counts and Head Start classrooms across the commonwealth are being forced to make a hard decision.
And that’s this: Either take out loans (and pay the interest) to open their doors to eager young learners or close state-funded classrooms
We urge Gov. Tom Wolf and the Legislature to work together to craft a budget that resolves this hardship.
But their negotiations regarding pre-kindergarten funding can’t only be about preserving state funding levels from last fiscal year for pre-k and getting those grants out the door.
Each year, more than 200,000 3- and 4-year-olds in Pennsylvania are missing out on this once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity.
These kids don’t get a “do-over” if they miss out on high-quality pre-k. For them, this negotiation must also be about increased funding.
That is why we, the 10 founding partners of Pre-K for PA, a statewide campaign to expand access to high-quality early learning, are cautiously optimistic that the eventual outcome of budget negotiations will favor our youngest learners.
Pre-K for PA’s vision is that every at-risk 3- and 4-year-old will gain access to high-quality pre-k by 2019.
In order to achieve that widely supported goal, the final 2015-16 budget must provide a substantial increase in state funding for pre-k.
It will take about $400 million in additional state investments over the next four years to increase access to children at greatest risk of academic failure.
The budget passed by the House and Senate, which included a $30 million increase, is a good first step to providing high-quality pre-k to an additional 3,500 children, but a $120 million increase this year would serve an additional 14,000 children and put us closer to our Pre-K for PA goal.
High-quality pre-k is a critical investment in the future of our children. Higher graduation rates, lower criminal activity, greater lifetime earnings and lower rates of special education are all connected by research to be outcomes of attending quality pre-k programs.
If we fall short of the much-needed $120 million additional investment this year, it will require larger increases in later years and leave more 3- and 4-year-olds missing out next school year. For these kids, delayed investments means lost opportunities.
Read the full op-ed here.