Tribune-Democrat: Pa. poll finds voters overwhelmingly support early childhood education investments

February 23, 2023 by Eric Scicchitano

HARRISBURG. Pa. – New polling of Pennsylvania voters shows near unanimity on the value of early childhood education, results advocates hope will lead to increased funding in the commonwealth’s next budget.

An estimated 101,500 children ages 3 and 4 in the commonwealth, or 61% of those eligible, had no access to high-quality, publicly funded pre-kindergarten such as Head Start and Pre-K Counts in October 2021, according to a data analysis by the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.

An additional 5,075 classrooms are needed to serve those children, the study found.

Partners of the Early Learning PA Coalition are seeking support for building out pre-kindergarten and high-quality child care. They point to the polling data as evidence that they have backing from the public and they hope it translates to support within the state legislature and the governor’s office.

In a poll of 800 voters conducted Feb. 1-7 by Susquehanna Polling and Research, 98% of respondents said early childhood education is important. Asked about state funding, 78% supported spending more to increase access to pre-kindergarten programs. And, 78% supported increasing funds for working low-income families to afford child care.

“Even more amazing is that this level of support is consistent across all age brackets, education levels, ethnicity, and gender. There is also no discernable difference between the views of Republicans or Democrats, conservative or liberal – they are all at or above 98% in agreement. The same goes for voters in different regions of the state,” Steve Doster, state director of Mission: Readiness, said during a press conference Tuesday at the state Capitol.

“Gov. Shapiro knows high-quality early childhood education and child care are essential for putting Pennsylvania children and families on the path to success from an early age. The governor strongly supports efforts to improve access to early childhood education and child care in our Commonwealth – and we are reviewing all options ahead of sharing more information soon,” said Emily Roderick, the governor’s director of press operations.

Staffing shortages and program closures following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic are blamed, in part, for the limited access to pre-kindergarten and child care, though challenges already pre-dated the pandemic.

survey from March by Start Strong PA found that 91% of programs had staffing shortages, with low wages and lack of benefits cited for nearly 7,000 job openings.

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