Op-Ed: Expanding Preschool will Help Children and the City

By Elliot Weinbaum
and Sharon Easterling

In Philadelphia, many are working hard to improve our schools. There is significant work to be done if we are to give our young people the best possible opportunity to become active and successful citizens, and we need to begin with our youngest learners.

Consider a few important facts. According to the Reinvestment Fund’s, only 15 percent of about 100,000 child-care seats in Philadelphia are rated as being high-quality, with three or four stars, according to the state’s Keystone Stars rating system. Of the remainder, more than half do not participate in the state’s certification or rating systems, and more than 30 percent are at the lower quality ratings.

If we look at individual neighborhoods, the landscape can be even bleaker. shows that several neighborhoods, some serving more than 1,000 children under the age of 5, have no child-care centers with a rating of three or four stars. In a city with the highest poverty rates among large American cities, less than one-third of our 3- and 4-year-olds have access to publicly funded, high-quality pre-K.

Why should we care? Because we know that early-education opportunities help people live better lives. Studies such as those by the Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman indicate that children who miss out on early education often struggle to catch up to the academic, professional, and personal success experienced by their peers. The work of Harvard education professor David Deming has shown that children in an early-childhood program are less likely to demonstrate learning disabilities later in life, more likely to graduate from high school, and less likely to be in poor health as adults.

What does this mean for Philadelphia? There are about 12,000 kindergartners in our city. The overall rate of special education in Philadelphia would suggest that almost 14 percent of these students will need special-education services. An evaluation by Pre-K Counts, a statewide program, suggests that if every child had access to high-quality early education, the special-education rate would be reduced to less than 5 percent.

Read the entire op-ed here.