Times-Leader: New push for increased pre-school access launched at Wilkes-Barre YMCA

January 19th, 2016

WILKES-BARRE — They came with a bag of books and asked for half a billion dollars, and while the aim was the same for both books and bucks — to help tots under age 5 get ready for school — the scope was obviously very different.

The books were doled out to a class of clamoring pre-kindergarten students at the Wilkes-Barre Family YMCA, after leaders of several non-profit advocacy groups released a new report “The case for Pre-K in PA,” and called for a dramatic boost in state money for high quality pre-school programs.

United Way of Wyoming Valley President Bill Jones noted one third of Wyoming Valley’s children are in poverty, adding often-cited research shows “statistically these children are more likely to grow up having social and emotional problems, drop out of school, be less healthy and experience addictions and commit crimes.”

Jones noted the agency has shifted focus to school readiness and now spends $370,000 annually “in early care and education programs, and $395,000 in other education support services support services.” But, he added, “The United Way and our community partners simply don’t have adequate resources to reach all the children in need. We must encourage our state government to consider its investment to ensure all children benefit.”

The National Institute for Early Education Research annually ranks states that offer publicly funded pre-k by the percentage of children with access to high quality pre-k, and Jones noted in the last five years the Keystone state slipped from 11th to 15th for children age 3, and from 24th to 30th for age 4.

PA Partnerships for Children President Joan Benso put a number on what she believes the state should do: Increase pre-k money by $500 million in five years. Availability of public resources to help provide pre-k for at-risk children — low income, English language learners and those with disabilities is “woefully inadequate,” she said.

The state is at a competitive disadvantage with neighbors, Benso said, noting 94 percent of children attend high quality pre-k in West Virginia, 54 percent in New York, 42 percent in Maryland and 35 percent in New Jersey. By comparison, only 26 percent attend pre-k in Pennsylvania.

Read the full article here.