York Daily Record: Advocates push for pre-k funding

January 20, 2016

Early childhood advocates called Wednesday for the state to step up its role in the funding of pre-kindergarten, saying philanthropic organizations don’t have the resources to meet the needs on their own.

As other states have increased their commitment to early childhood education programs, Pennsylvania has lost ground, advocates said Wednesday at a news conference at York Day Nursery, hosted by area United Way organizations and members of the Pre-K for PA campaign.

Over the past five years, the state dropped four spots to rank 15th in the nation in pre-k access for 3-year-olds and fell six spots to 30th when it came to 4-year-old children, according to data included in a report issued Wednesday.

Bob Woods, executive director of the United Way of York County, said it was 1994 when the organization partnered with the York County Community Foundation and Penn State York to create Focus on our Future, a school readiness initiative. It was a no-brainer for most involved to invest significant resources in quality early care, he said. Years and millions of dollars later, he said, only a small percentage of children are being reached.

“The United Way and our community partners simply don’t have adequate resources to reach all children and youth. Government must be the largest investor if we are to ensure that all children benefit,” he said.

Joan Benso, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, said that there’s broad, bipartisan agreement that pre-kindergarten works for children, but it’s not funded at a level to ensure every child who could benefit has access.

Gov. Tom Wolf had wanted $120 million additional for Pre-K Counts and Head Start in his proposed budget for 2015-16. The partial budget he signed in late December expanded funding by $30 million.

Benso said one could assume he’d maintain that, and look for a $60 million increase in 2016-17 budget, but she hopes he goes after the full $120 million. Continuing funding at that pace would allow Pennsylvania to make pre-k available to all children at risk of academic failure by 2019, she said.

Asked if Wolf would again push for a $120 million increase in 2016-17, Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan said “we’re going to continue to fight for increased funding for early childhood education.”

York Day Nursery has three pre-kindergarten classrooms, including one Pre-K Counts classroom.

In those classes, teachers observe and assess children to determine their needs, and plan their teaching around their students’ needs and interests, said Lisa Rumsey, interim executive director of York Day Nursery. They read to them, work on pre-reading skills and put books in the hands of parents to help them support their children’s learning.

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