Tribune-Democrat: Quality pre-k education key to future workforce
By Mike Artim March 19. 2017

As the new president and CEO of Greater Johnstown/County Cambria Chamber of Commerce, one of the issues I hear about from local businesses is how they struggle to find workers to meet their needs.

And our region isn’t alone.

A report from Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry found that more than half of Pennsylvania employers report difficulty finding employees with adequate skills, training or education, especially in technical fields.

So what can we do to fix this?

Efforts to engage young talent in STEM fields during the K-12 years certainly matter, but a recent report from ReadyNation points to the growing body of research showing that front-end investments in high-quality early childhood education truly plant the seeds of STEM learning.

For example, knowledge of math in preschool and kindergarten is a powerful predictor of later school success, not just in math but also in reading and overall achievement. Children with persistent math problems at ages 6, 8 and 10 are less likely to graduate from high school or attend college.

Unfortunately, across Pennsylvania, 112,900 3- and 4-year-olds who qualify for publicly funded, high-quality prekindergarten are not served. That’s more than 64 percent of eligible children, according to “A Path Forward: Publicly Funded High-Quality Pre-K in Pennsylvania,” from Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.

Here in Cambria County, the number of eligible children not enrolled in publicly funded, high-quality prekindergarten could fill 53 classrooms.

The unmet need, here and statewide, is fueling a campaign called Pre-K for PA. This campaign has united a wide array of voices calling for greater access to pre-K including United Way, mayors, pediatricians, chamber of commerce leaders, prominent athletes, military and law enforcement leaders and, most importantly, parents of young children.

All these people from varied spheres agree that investments in high-quality prekindergarten make a difference in the lives of children. Further research reveals that children from high-quality prekindergarten are:

• More likely to advance grades in school and have improved social skills.

• Less likely to need special education placements.

• More likely to graduate from high school and enroll in college, increasing their employment possibilities and lifetime earning potential.

• Less likely to commit crimes later in life.

For our communities, the need for less special education and criminal justice intervention saves taxpayer money. 

Plus, our workforce and economy are strengthened with educated people equipped with the communications and teamwork skills that employers value. 

In fact, every dollar invested returns $17 in long-term savings and benefits.

Currently being considered as part of next year’s state budget is an additional $75 million that would provide pre-K services to 8,400 more children.

Few investments promise such high, proven returns as quality early childhood education. 

This must continue to be a priority for Pennsylvania. 

Mike Artim is president and CEO of Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Chamber of Commerce and serves as a member of ReadyNation.

Read the op-ed here.