The Intelligencer: Value of Quality Pre-k Education Benefits All of Us
July 4, 2017 by Marissa Christie CEO of the United Way of Bucks County

Research tells us that young children ask about 280 questions per day. As the parent of a preschooler, I can tell you this estimate feels a little low.

By day, I am the CEO of United Way of Bucks County, an organization dedicated to giving the most vulnerable people in our community access to care and opportunity. Before and after work, I am an information kiosk, patiently addressing all of my son’s burning questions: Why isn’t my birthday a holiday? Why are moths nocturnal? Why are squirrels hard to catch? Why do I go to school?

At his age, I keep the answer to that last one simple: He goes to school so that he can learn and play with his friends. But really, he goes to school because high-quality early education is one of the most important things we can ever give a child.

A child’s brain is 90 percent developed by age 5, which means the early years provide the greatest opportunity for us to make a difference. We have a small window to make the most of these years. Children get on (or are knocked off) the path to success very early in life.

There are both short- and long-term benefits to quality early education. Children’s early literacy, math, and social/emotional skills improve, ensuring that they are ready to enter kindergarten. Long-term, children who get a high-quality pre-K education are:

• Less likely to repeat a grade.

• Less likely to need special-education placements.

• More likely to graduate from high school, go to college, and get good jobs.

• Less likely to commit crimes later in life.

Why does all this matter? Even if you don’t care about children, there is a financial incentive to invest in early education. Reducing the need for special education and criminal justice intervention saves a lot of taxpayer money. Plus, our workforce and economy are strengthened with educated workers. Every dollar invested returns up to $17 in long-term savings and benefits and generates $1.79 in economic activity immediately.

These benefits help explain the groundswell of support for high-quality pre-K education. People from all walks of life agree that investments in high-quality pre-K make a difference in the lives of children: county commissioners, mayors, pediatricians, business leaders, military and law enforcement leaders, and, most importantly, parents of young children.

Although many groups, including United Way of Bucks County, are working together to increase support for quality pre-K education, Pennsylvania is falling behind in this critical investment area.

In Bucks County alone, there are 4,187 children who are eligible for publicly funded pre-K education; only 24 percent of these children actually get it. The remaining children are left behind due to lack of funding.

We must do more to help children and families overcome the financial barriers to quality pre-K education. This is the time to keep the pre-K momentum going; to ensure that all children can meet their potential.

Although Gov. Tom Wolf prioritized pre-K in his budget proposal for 2017-18, the budget passed by the House reduced new investments by two-thirds and cut child care subsidies by $28 million.

Not all children in Bucks County will have the access to early education that my son does. Their questions, now and in the future, will be different than my son’s. Someday, they will be left wondering why they never had a chance.

We can change that. The Pre-K for PA movement is calling for $75 million to serve an additional 8,400 children and $35 million to improve child care.

Support the movement for quality pre-K and encourage our state leaders to do so as well. Every call and email makes a difference.

When we unite to make pre-K education a priority, our children, families, and communities are all better off, now and in the future.

Read the op-ed here.