Reading Eagle: Campaign seeks $90 million boost for preschool programs
By David Mekeel    June 15, 2016

READING, PA – The facts of the matter are fairly straightforward.

Quality pre-kindergarten programs lead to students being more successful. And, in Pennsylvania, there isn’t enough money to make sure every kid has the opportunity.

Not many dispute either of those points. The challenge comes in finding a way, in an increasingly tight state budget, to find the needed cash.

The Pre-K for PA campaign is trying to make sure finding a solution for that problem remains a priority. Representatives from the group have been making the rounds, visiting media outlets across the state to make their case.

Tuesday afternoon, they stopped by Berks County to speak with the Reading Eagle editorial board.
The numbers speak for themselves, said Bruce R. Clash, state director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Pennsylvania.

Across the state, he said, almost 60 percent of at-risk children eligible for publicly funded, high-quality pre-kindergarten are unable to access programs. In Berks, that results in more than 4,800 kids missing out.
“We still have such a population of families and children not getting services,” said Cheri L. Woyurka, director of the office of early childhood and student services at the Berks County Intermediate Unit. “There’s just such an unmet need.”

Woyurka said the BCIU currently operates two Head Start programs, as well as 13 Pre-K Counts programs across the county. Those programs consistently have about 60 students on a wait list, with the BCIU unable to provide services because of a lack of funding.

With similar situations playing out across the state, Pre-K for PA’s goal is to slowly chip away at the funding shortfall.

Clash said the group is looking for a $90 million increase in Pre-K Counts and Head Start funding in the 2016-17 state budget. That number is consistent with what Gov. Tom Wolf is proposing in his budget plan.

The increase would allow for 6,200 students who had half-year funding this year be extended to full-year, and add another 7,400 kids to the rolls for full-year programs, Clash said.

Of course, those increases are dependent on finding new state revenue streams, a task Pre-K for PA members admit isn’t very easy. But, they said, pre-kindergarten should be near the front of the line for new money because of the long-range positive impacts it can have.

And, said Stephen L. Doster, Pennsylvania state director of Mission: Readiness, that’s a view that has wide support.

“If there’s going to be an increase, early education is one of the issues they can get the most bipartisan support for,” he said of the state Legislature. “You will struggle to find another line item that provides the same return on investment.”

Read the full article here.