Sharon Herald: Rep. Longietti Named a Pre-K Champion
April 22, 2017 by Joe Pinchot
SHARON – The numbers are stark.
In West Middlesex Area School District, 145 children are eligible for pre-kindergarten programs, but only 17 are enrolled, according to Pre-K for PA, a nonpartisan coalition lobbying for increased attention and funding for early childhood education.
In Mercer County, West Middlesex’s numbers are the norm. Other than the Hermitage and Farrell school districts, where all eligible students are enrolled in programs, more than half the 3- and 4-year-olds in every other county school district do not have access to an early education program.
Pre-K for PA honored Longietti on Friday with the Pre-K Champion Award, one of a handful of legislators so designated. These champions have “made this a priority issue,” said spokesman Kate Phillips.
“We need guys like Mark to push this forward,” she said.
Longietti is “the guy that (is) carrying the torch in Harrisburg on this issue,” said Ron DiNicola, co-chairman of the Northwest PA Leadership Council for Pre-K Counts, who presented the award to the Hermitage lawmaker.
“As I go around talking about pre-K myself, I’m always amazed at how impactful his contribution has been,” DiNicola said.
The award was handed out at Zion Education Center, the Sharon organization that has 30 children enrolled in its pre-kindergarten program, their enrollment fees paid totally or partly by a government organization.
“The parents in this community can’t afford to pay,” said Dr. April L. Torrence, who founded and operates the center, with Sharon school Superintendent Michael Calla adding that up to 70 percent of Sharon families are considered impoverished.
The lack of new funding is “very frustrating,” Torrence said.
“It is even more frustrating to know that we had a five-year gap before receiving grant funding to expand our classroom again,” she said. “It’s even more frustrating to know there are some parents that still have a portion of services that they have to pay for through co-payments, and they struggle with that. One of the hardest things that I have to do is cut off services because the parent has gotten behind in their co-payments.”
Children need to know their numbers and letters before they enter kindergarten, making pre-kindergarten programs critical to the long-term success of children in schools, said Jim Micsky, executive director of United Way of Mercer County, which runs the pre-kindergarten Success by Six program in the summer in 11 school districts.
“That’s where we set the groundwork for the future,” Micsky said of pre-kindergarten education.