Reading Eagle: Report Calls on Harrisburg to Increase Pre-kindergarten Funding
January 28, 2019 by Dan Mekeel

Over the last five years, Pennsylvania has pumped $145 million in funding increases into the effort to make sure kids have access to high-quality prekindergarten programs.

The Pre-K for PA Campaign is looking for another $243 million.

In a report released Tuesday, the campaign says that Pennsylvania ranks 19th out of 28 states that provide high-quality, publicly-funded prekindergarten when it comes to how much money the states provide per student. The $966 per capita spending in Pennsylvania is less than a third of what the top state, New Jersey, spends.

The newest “The Road to Success Includes High-Quality Pre-K” is the third version of the annual report. In each, Pennsylvania has fared similarly, coming in at 20th in 2017 and 18th in 2018.

“We’ve really been hanging around the same range,” said Kari King, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Partnership for Children, a principal partner of The Pre-K for PA Campaign.

King said Tuesday that the importance of high-quality prekindergarten programs is well-known. Study after study has shown its positive impact on students both inside the classroom and out, helping to develop curiosity, problem solving and social and emotional skills and other traits.

Kids who go through the programs perform better on standardized tests, have higher graduation rates and are better prepared when they reach the workforce, she added.

Despite the obvious benefits, King said, there are still a lot of kids not getting the opportunity. Only 44% of the eligible 3- and 4-year-olds eligible for state-funded prekindergarten — as determined by financial need — are currently enrolled.

And that, she said, needs to change.

“If we don’t break down barriers to access for more children at-risk of failure, then we cannot expect them to enter adulthood prepared to make meaningful contributions to our economy and society,” King said.

That’s why King and others involved with the report are calling for the state to increase funding for prekindergarten by $243 million by the 2022-23 school year.

During a teleconference to discuss the report, a pair of men involved with efforts to increase prekindergarten funding in states that fare much better than Pennsylvania in the rankings shared their experiences.

Ken Sikkema, a former Michigan state Senate and House majority leader, said his state made a significant push to increase prekindergarten funding in 2013. Michigan ranked fourth in the report, spending $2,143 per student.

Sikkema said Michigan started a program to provide prekindergarten for low-income children in 1985, initially providing $1 million in funding. The program grew year after year, he said, sitting at about $70 million when he retired from politics in 2006.

Then, in 2012, a report came out that showed low-income students in the state who went to a quality prekindergarten program ended up being much more successful than the ones who didn’t.

“The results were really quite startling, to be honest with you,” Sikkema said.

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