PennLive: Gov. Tom Wolf asking for $90 million more for preschool programs

February 4, 2016

Gov. Tom Wolf plans to ask the General Assembly to invest another $60 million into state funding for preschool programs in 2016-17 on top of $30 million more that he didn’t get in this year’s unfinished budget.

At an event in Philadelphia on Thursday, Wolf made a pitch to try to gain support for this proposed investment that would raise the current state funding for preschool programs of $166.5 million to $256.3 million next year if fully realized.

An increased investment of that size would allow 14,000 more children access to preschool, based on information released by the Wolf Administration earlier this year.

“We have a choice in Pennsylvania. We must choose a path that funds our schools, eliminates our deficit, and puts Pennsylvania back on track,” Wolf said. “I believe that Pennsylvania should be among the many states that provide universal pre-kindergarten for children and I will work to make this a reality.”

The new preschool funding that the governor seeks for this year and next would be divided between Pre-K Counts and the state supplement to federal funding for Head Start.

It would direct $50 million of next year’s money and $20 million of the additional funding he seeks in this year’s budget for Pre-K Counts and $10 million more in each this year and next for Head Start, according to Wolf’s spokesman Jeff Sheridan.

This pre-budget announcement comes on the heels of one Wolf made on Tuesday, saying he intends to ask the Legislature to increase funding for basic education by $200 million next year on top of the $377 million he still wants for this year.

Studies have suggested avoids costs associated with grade repetition and special education, reduces the likelihood of students dropping out of high school, boosts their employment opportunities and mitigates problem behavior that can land them in the criminal justice system.

According to a study released last month by the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children and Pre-K for Pa campaign, only one in six of the state’s 3- and 4-year-olds – nearly 300,000 – were enrolled in high-quality preschool programs and 70 percent of about 175,000 preschoolers at risk of school failure lacked access to these programs. (See below for a county breakdown of those numbers.)

Wolf last year sought a $120 million increase in funding for Pre-K Counts and Head Start but the $23.4 billion budget that he signed into law in December provided for a $30 million bump instead. Wolf said he wants to see double that amount included in the finalized 2015-16 budget and another $60 million in next year’s budget.

When it comes to preschool, Republican and Democratic lawmakers stand in unison in their support of providing more funding and consider it a wise investment. It also has the support from children’s advocacy groups, district attorneys and military leaders.

Pre-K for Pa, a coalition of groups pushing for increased access to quality preschool programs for 3- and 4-year-olds, applauded news of Wolf’s call for increased preschool funding.

“Our coalition, representing ten organizations and more than 13,000 supporters, urges the governor and Legislature to kick off this next round of budget discussions by coming together behind a pre-k funding agreement that keeps us on track to serve all at-risk kids by 2019,” according to the group’s statement.

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