York Daily Record: Make high-quality prekindergarten a 2017 priority
January 11, 2017 by Chris Reilly York County Commissioner

Movements gain their strength when many people from differing walks of life unite for a single cause. Over the past three years, I have supported an effort known as Pre-K for PA, which is urging meaningful state investments in high-quality prekindergarten.

Why high-quality pre-K? Because it works, and because all children, especially those who start life at disadvantages due to no fault of their own, deserve a chance to succeed. For these kids, high-quality early learning helps to build the foundation for academics, proper social behavior and emotional health.

Neuroscientists have proved that the human brain develops most rapidly from birth to 5, and most effectively with the proper kind of enrichment.  Those findings have influenced state policy makers and resulted in high-quality, enriching prekindergarten being available to thousands more eligible children.  However, new data show there’s much more work to be done.

Statewide, 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. In 11 out of the 16 school districts in York County, fewer than 20 percent of qualifying prekindergarten children were served. In Red Lion Area School District there is only one high-quality publicly funded classroom – despite nearly 600 eligible children in the district. And while 245 children qualify in the Spring Grove Area School District, there are no publicly funded high-quality pre-k providers.

The unmet need, here and statewide, is fueling more voices to support the goals of the Pre-K for PA Campaign. In 2016, some of those voices included United Way affiliates (including the United Way of York County), mayors (including Mayor Bracey), 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. 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, amping up 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.

All these benefits help explain this groundswell of support for high-quality pre-K.

Clearly, this is the time to keep the pre-k momentum going and help all children fulfill their promise. We believe that Gov. Wolf will, once again, prioritize new investments for pre-k in his upcoming budget proposal for 2017-18. The Pre-K for PA movement is calling for an $85 million investment to serve an additional 10,000 children. That investment should grow in future years, to reach all eligible children and help address affordability issues for hard-working middle-class families who deserve the benefits of high-quality prekindergarten but find it financially out of reach.

By uniting to make these investments a top priority, we assure that our children, families and communities reap the benefits of preparedness for school and life promised by high-quality prekindergarten.

Christopher B. Reilly is a York County commissioner.

Read the column here.