York Daily Record: Most needy kids in York County aren’t getting pre-k
December 15, 2016 by Angie Mason
When children arrive for kindergarten, they come with a wide range of abilities. Some of them might know the alphabet, nearly able to read. Others might recognize only a few letters.
“It makes it challenging,” said South Western School District Supt. Barbara Rupp. “We work hard to lessen that gap.”
South Western has been meeting with area preschools for a few years to address that need, Rupp said. District educators explain what’s expected of kindergarten students and share training to help the providers better prepare kids.
South Western also changed its kindergarten registration process to help identify early those children who might need more help. The district makes home visits over the summer and takes families books. The district and its foundation also pay for a program that will deliver daily early-childhood activities to a parent’s phone or email.
A state advocacy group says there’s another way to help get those kids started right: Put more state money toward publicly funded, high quality pre-kindergarten programs.
Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children released a report this week looking at how many 3- and 4-year-old children who were eligible for such programs were actually enrolled in them. Statewide, the report showed 64 percent of eligible children — those who are low-income or have other special needs — did not have access to programs, and there are gaps everywhere — in rural, suburban and urban areas.
In eight school districts in York County, less than 10 percent of the 3- and 4-year olds who are eligible are actually enrolled in a program. In the South Western and Spring Grove districts, the report showed none of the eligible children were being served.
The report says high quality programs include Pre-K Counts, Head Start, school district programs and child care centers that have earned the higher spots on the Keystone Stars quality ranking system. An online map with the report shows that in many areas of York County there are few or no such programs available.
Good Shepherd Child Care in Glen Rock, which has the highest Keystone Stars rating of 4, is the only program in the Southern York County School District boundaries, according to the report. In order to earn the higher Stars rating, a certain percentage of students must be funded by public subsidies, and there are additional requirements to meet, like more education for staff.
It’s a lot more work, said director Pamela Prowell.
“But child outcomes, you can see the difference,” she said. “You’ve got kids that come to you from strong, healthy, functioning families. Then you’ve got kids that come from families that aren’t functioning, aren’t strong. That makes our jobs that much more important so when they get to public school, they’re ready.”
Shirl Quinan, who owns the Kidsville Junction centers in Stewartstown and Fawn Grove, said she thinks there are also parents who don’t want to apply for child care funding because they think it’s a handout. Her centers have 3-star ratings, and it can be costly and difficult to maintain that. At least 10 percent of the centers’ children must be funded by subsidies.
“I feel, in the bottom of my heart, it’s the right thing to do,” she said.
The York City School District has the most children eligible for free programs, nearly twice as many as Red Lion, which has the next largest population. But more children in the city, 69 percent, are being reached than in any other district.
The school district offers free pre-k in all of its buildings, some funded through Pre-K Counts and some paid for out of the district’s budget. The district has been working to expand the programs in recent years, aiming to one day reach all city children.
Other organizations in the city offer programs, too, like the YWCA York, which has Pre-K Counts and a 4-Star rated child care program. Ruby Martin, the YWCA’s chief program officer, cautioned that there is still a huge need in the city, even though things might look good on paper.
At the YWCA alone, “we have 50 kids on a waiting list for pre-k,” Martin said. “It’s a pretty significant need if we want to get kids the start that they need.”
What’s the solution?
Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children says there’s a need for more state investment in early childhood programs, specifically: $85 million more in 2017-18, and $340 million more by 2020-21 to serve all eligible children.
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