PennLive: Pa.’s investment in preschool lags behind other states, study shows
May 8, 2017 by Jan Murphy

Advocates pushing for an increase in state funding for preschool programs in the 2017-18 state budget released a study on Monday that shows Pennsylvania’s investment in pre-K programs is lagging behind other states.

It shows 19 states and the District of Columbia have a higher per-capita investment in high-quality preschool programs than Pennsylvania, which invests $682.17 per child, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. Fifteen states invest more than $1,000 per child including economic competitors New Jersey and New York.

What’s more, Joan Benso, president of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, said, “Sixty-four percent, two-thirds basically, of Pennsylvania 3- and 4-year-olds who are eligible for high-quality pre-k still don’t get the opportunity to attend. Why? Because we don’t invest enough state money.”

Her organization along with the Pre-K for PA campaign are calling on lawmakers to support Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed $75 million increase for Pre-K Counts and Head Start, and not the $25 million one included in the House-passed Republican budget.

The proposed $75 million increase would up the state’s investment in preschool to $271.5 million and open up 8,400 more slots for children to access high-quality preschool programs.

At a Capitol news conference where she was joined by Gov. Tom Wolf along with other officials, Benso said she recognizes this is a big investment in a difficult budget year but reminded lawmakers, “our preschool children don’t have time to wait ’til the budget gets better for us to make a bigger investment. They have once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend high-quality pre-k. They don’t get a do-over when the economy improves.”

Wolf said he became a believer in the importance of preschool before he became governor. His cabinet company contributed to United Way to set up early childhood programs in York. He said the private sector has a role to play but to scale it up to serve more children, it needs government help.

He said his $32.3 billion state budget proposal for next year cuts funding and squeezes out some savings to avoid a broad-based tax increase. However he said it also “increases investment in places that make a difference in the lives of Pennsylvanians. Early childhood education is one of those places.”

Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed, a Republican who often disagrees with the Democratic governor on criminal justice issues, said when it comes to preschool, they are on the same side.

Investing in preschool keeps kids in school and out of the criminal justice system, he said. Half of Pennsylvania’s prison population has less than a 12th grade education. With over 47,000 adult inmates, that costs taxpayers $2.3 billion a year to keep them incarcerated.

“If we keep people out of the system, we will save all sorts of money,” he said. “It’s hard to look ahead. It’s hard make an argument that we need to do things that will help us down the road. But the studies show – and the reason that you have so many law enforcement people involved in this fight is that the studies show that these programs work.”

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