Times Leader: Letter to the Editor: Ensure Pre-Kindergarten Programs among State’s top Priorities, say United Way Chiefs

By: Bill Jones, President and CEO United Way of Wyoming Valley

Gary Drapek, President and CEO United Way of Lackawanna and Wayne Counties

Pat Ward, President and CEO United Way of Greater Hazelton

The path to educational success for Pennsylvania’s children begins even before the doors open on the first day of kindergarten.

That is why the United Way has been advocating for early learning through our Success by Six initiative. There is already strong agreement across party and geographic lines that expanding access to high-quality pre-kindergarten programs is a smart, cost-effective way to ensure all children enter school ready to learn; now the time has come for action.

Parents and educators see high-quality pre-k as an effective tool to improve school readiness and long-term student success. Law enforcement officials see it as a strategy to help at-risk youth avoid the criminal justice system. Business leaders see evidence of the proven benefits and know quality pre-k is a smart investment.

And yet, despite all of this support, only one in six of Pennsylvania’s 3- and 4-year-olds benefits from publicly funded, high-quality pre-k, leaving more than 200,000 young learners missing out statewide, including more than 13,000 here in Northeastern Pennsylvania. We need to improve on this sad statistic.

We are among those who believe if we want to build a stronger Pennsylvania, increased access to high-quality pre-k must be a building block for that foundation. That’s why we have joined the statewide Pre-K for PA Leadership Council made up of more than 100 leading voices in Pennsylvania business, education, law enforcement, civic engagement and even the military, all of whom recognize the many benefits of high-quality pre-k.

“Pre-K for PA” is a nonpartisan, issue-focused campaign that is working to make high-quality pre-k accessible to every 3- and 4-year-old in the state.

High-quality pre-k is an educational, moral and societal imperative essential to our economic success. A fiscal analysis found if Pennsylvania funded pre-k for all 3- and 4-year-olds, the commonwealth’s investment would generate $800 million in additional goods and services and create nearly 28,000 jobs statewide in the short term. The long-term benefits are even greater, with every dollar invested in pre-k returning up to $17 in savings and benefits to the commonwealth.

As support for Pre-K for PA’s vision grows in this region and in communities across Pennsylvania, it is encouraging to see that so many of the state’s newly elected and re-elected leaders are committed to strengthening our schools and early learning facilities as a way to elevate our workforce and communities. Now that commitment needs to turn into action.

With a new Democratic governor and Republican-led majority in the state Legislature getting to work on the 2015-16 budget, we hope they work together to ensure an investment in high-quality pre-k is at the top of Pennsylvania’s priorities. We know it’s a smart investment that pays off for every Pennsylvanian, and we can’t defer such an important investment any longer.

Click here to read the Letter to the Editor on the Times Leader site.