Scranton Times: Advocates Urge More Money for Pre-k

The last 15 years produced far more quality pre-kindergarten schools in Lackawanna County, but the families of hundreds of children who need them most still can’t afford them, advocates for more state pre-schools said Wednesday.

In a meeting with the The Times-Tribune editorial board, the advocates proposed a $90 million increase in funding for the state’s Pre-K Counts program for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Begun under Gov. Ed Rendell in 2007, the state’s Pre-K Counts program funds schools that teach 3- and 4-year-olds. Unlike Oklahoma, which almost entirely funds pre-kindergarten education, Pennsylvania only pays for about 30 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds to attend pre-schools, said Bruce Clash, state director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. Fight Crime represents about 175 police chiefs, county sheriffs and district attorneys across the state who believe more early-childhood education will reduce crime and cost society less in the long run.

Pre-K funding remains the subject of budget negotiations in Harrisburg between the Republican-controlled state General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

Mr. Clash portrayed the need for universal pre-kindergarten partly as a national security matter. Almost three-quarters of children between 18 and 24 years old can’t join the military because they either don’t have a high school diploma, have a criminal record or can’t meet the physical fitness requirements, he said.

“But we know that pre-K (education) addresses all three of these issues … in terms of preventing crime, increasing high school graduation rates and getting kids and families off to a healthier start that leads to a lifetime of healthier outcomes,” Mr. Clash said, referring to studies that show the effectiveness of pre-K.

Lackawanna County has at least 14 state-certified pre-schools compared to two 15 years ago, but too many pre-school-aged children’s families still can’t afford one, said Gary Drapek, president and chief executive officer of the United Way of Lackawanna and Wayne Counties.

Eligibility for Pre-K Counts is for up to three times the federal poverty level, or $72,750 for a family of four.

In Lackawanna County, an estimated 1,775 children, ages 3 and 4, are eligible, but there isn’t enough money to help their families pay to send them to pre-school. Statewide, that number is more than 120,000.

Read the full editorial here.