Philadelphia Business Journal: Local business leaders call for $90M increase in pre-K funding from state

Pennsylvania businesses and military leaders are calling on state policymakers to put an additional $90 million towards quality pre-K, an investment they say will eventually help bridge a STEM workforce skills gap in the state.

Nearly two-thirds of Pennsylvania eighth graders are not proficient in math and science and more than a quarter of students entering the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education require remedial education in math and English, according to STEM and Early Childhood – When Skills Take Root, a report released Friday by Mission: Readiness and ReadyNation.

The two nonprofits, with officials from the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, the Main Line Chamber of Commerce and the African American Chamber of Commerce, said the report’s findings show Pennsylvania lawmakers must address the long-term STEM needs in the workforce.

“You don’t need a businessperson to tell you that the United States is facing changing workforce demands,” said Jim Waddington, the director of strategic marketing solutions at Lockheed Martin.

“Just take a look around,” he said. “Under the hood of your car to the hospital operating rooms to defense systems of our industry, the 21st century workforce is operating technology that one could only dream of just a generation or even a year or two ago.”

The report found more 52 percent of the state’s employers had difficulty hiring people with adequate skills, training or education – especially in technical and skilled trade jobs.

Steven Bradley, of the African-American Chamber added “economic empowerment is crucial to the growth of the African-American chamber,” pointing out the report shows African-American and Hispanic kindergartners’ math scores lag behind white and Asian children.

“Our future’s success and our nation’s technological advantage depend upon the constant supply of highly trained, highly capable technical talent,” Waddington said.

About 40,000 children between the ages of 3 and 4 live in Philadelphia, but 59 percent do not have access to publicly funded, high quality pre-K, according to Kids Count Data Center.

Efforts to correct this issue in the city are already underway as Mayor Jim Kenney signed Monday the sugary drinks tax into law, the funds of which are mostly dedicated to funding pre-K and adding more community schools.

Outside the city, thousands of other children are also in need of more quality pre-K options, according to the chambers.

In Delaware County, 77 percent of the municipality’s 13,856 children do not have access to pre-K. Eighty-three percent of Chester County’s 13,163 children, 82 percent of Bucks County’s 14,384 children and 85 percent Montgomery County’s of 19,320 children also do not have access to pre-K, according to the report.

The call by the business leaders to up the state’s pre-K funding on Friday echoes previous statements made by other officials throughout the state.

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