Uncertainty Grows in Pre-K Classrooms Across PA

Providers Acquire Bridge Loans; Classrooms Sit Empty and Threat of Closure Remains as a Result of Harrisburg Budget Impasse

ROYERSFORD (August 28, 2015)– The budget impasse in Harrisburg has left many Pre-K Counts and Head Start providers seeking bridge loans to keep their doors open or pondering closure of state funded classrooms, while potential new expansion classrooms sit empty awaiting a resolution to ongoing budget negotiations.

Pre-K providers were joined by superintendents from Pottstown and Spring-Ford school districts at Play and Learn in Royersford, in a newly constructed pre-k expansion classroom, which will remain empty until the level of pre-k funding is resolved with the overall state budget.

Without a state budget in place, Pre-K Counts and Head Start Supplemental grants did not go out to pre-k providers across the Commonwealth, forcing them to make the hard decision to either solicit private bridge financing and pay the interest associated with that or close state funded classrooms.

Delaware County based Today’s Child Learning Centers took out a $130,000 bridge loan this week, which will enable them to operate state funded classrooms for about a month. “This loan helped us ensure that our doors remained opened to the 138 children and families that we serve in state programs,” said Erinn Rinn, Community Relations Coordinator, Today’s Child Learning Centers. “But even this is only a short term solution. Bridge financing will run out in October.  In a real sense, the clock is ticking.”

Christine Fox of Warwick Child Care Centers in Chester County added that Warwick has also taken the risk of opening its approved Pre-K Counts classrooms to 56 children without any state funds, absorbing the salaries for 9 teaching staff and maxing out their line of credit and even their credit cards. “We hope that our story will help Harrisburg and our legislators realize the detrimental impact the budget impasse is having on thousands of children across the state, putting an irreversible strain on childcare employers and employees. Our ability to continue providing high-quality early childhood education to our PA Pre-K Counts children and families, as well as all of the additional families in our centers, is in danger if the budget is not passed. The clock is ticking for all of us,” continued Fox, adding that Warwick would like to provide an additional 14 seats if the program is expanded.

In Pottstown, a school-community collaboration is serving 360 children but still leaves out 278. “Our data shows that the PA Pre-K Counts students enter kindergarten better prepared than the district average. And, the Pre-K Counts students maintain that advantage throughout elementary school, with no evidence of fadeout,” said Dr. Jeffrey Sparagana, superintendent of the Pottstown School District. “We need more Pre-K Counts classes in Pottstown and across the Commonwealth to build strong, stable children and families.”

“Each year (under FY 2014-15 funding levels) more than 30,000 three- and four-year-olds in Montgomery, Delaware and Chester Counties are missing out on this once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity. These kids don’t get a “do-over” if they miss out on high-quality pre- k. For them, this negotiation must also be about increased funding,” stated Shawn Towey of the Pre-K for PA campaign.

In Montgomery County 32 % of kids under five years old are living in families under 300% of the federal poverty guidelines, making them eligible for state funded pre-k programs. Only 6 percent of Montgomery County 3- and 4-year-olds have access to publicly funded pre-k. Play and Learn sits on additional empty classroom space awaiting much-needed state expansion funds so it can hire new teachers.

“We have this beautiful new classroom to educate our children, but without additional state funding, it will sit empty,” said Melanie Godhania, Program Operations Director for Play and Learn. “It is the reason why Pennsylvania needs a state budget now that further invests in pre-k.”

Kristine Helman, whose daughter is enrolled in Pre-K Counts at Play and Learn’s Blue Bell Center, joined the conversation on Friday. “For every spot in my daughter’s class, there are a dozen more families that need this program and couldn’t enroll their child. I am so lucky she had such an enriching early learning program. I can see how excited it makes her to learn new things every day. I worry that the budget delay is trimming valuable days off of the coming school year. Every day of lost learning, is one day less to ensure our kids are ready for kindergarten. I know that our elected leaders are supporters of pre-k, but they must recognize the impact that this will have on families.”

“High-quality pre-k is a critical investment in the future of our children,” said Towey. “Higher graduation rates, lower criminal activity, greater lifetime earnings, lower rates of special education – research has shown that all of these are results of quality pre-k programs.”

The Pre-K for PA campaign is calling on Governor Wolf and legislative leaders to return to the negotiating table and pass a budget with a significant investment in pre-k that gets us on the path to serving more of the 200,000 three and four-year olds without access.

Towey praised the bi-partisan support in Harrisburg for pre-k. She referenced that both the Republican proposed budget and Governor Wolf’s proposed budget grew funding for pre-k by $30 million and $120 million respectively. “We urge the legislature and Governor Wolf to not just pass a budget swiftly, but pass a budget with a major new investment in early learning.”

The Pre-K for PA campaign believes that high-quality pre-k should be available to all children – beginning with those most in need. Advocates say that to accomplish this Pennsylvania needs to aggressively ramp up its investments over the next four years.

“This will take at least $400 million in additional state investments over the coming years,” said Towey. “The greater the funding increase for pre-k in this budget, the sooner we get to the goal of making quality early learning accessible for every family.”

Pre-K for PA was launched in 2014 with the vision that every 3- and 4-year-old in Pennsylvania will have access to high-quality pre-k. This statewide coalition includes: Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children; Economy League of Greater Philadelphia; Fight Crime: Invest in Kids; Mission: Readiness; Pennsylvania Association for the Education of Young Children; Pennsylvania Head Start Association; Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children; Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children; Public Citizens for Children and Youth; and United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. www.prekforpa.org