York Daily Record: Op-Ed: Early Childhood Education: An Investment Worth Making
May 17, 2017 by Rep. Carol Hill-Evans

Decades of research have shown the significant ways a child’s brain develops in the early years – long before kindergarten. A child’s brain capacity is said to be 90 percent developed before the child turns 5.

Those years present a valuable opportunity that we can’t afford to waste.

But unfortunately, not every child in Pennsylvania – or York County – is getting to make the most of that critical time.

A 2015 report from the National Institute for Early Education Research showed neighboring states – New York, New Jersey, Maryland, West Virginia – are all reaching more 4-year-olds with pre-K than we are here in Pennsylvania.

Data from the Pre-K for PA campaign shows that across Pennsylvania, about 69 percent of children who are eligible for publicly funded, high quality pre-kindergarten are not getting it.

And in York County, that number is higher. About 80 percent of eligible children in our county – children who are low-income or have other special needs – do not have access to these programs.

That’s 4,380 local children who are missing a vital opportunity that could put them on the path toward educational success.

We at the state level have to do our part to help correct that.

That is why I support Gov. Tom Wolf’s efforts to increase funding for early childhood education and make sure we are getting more children off to a good start.

For 2017-18, Wolf has proposed a $75 million increase for Pre-K Counts and Head Start programs. If you couple that with the $60 million in additional funding that the governor has been able to secure in the past two years, it would mean more than 8,400 additional children are able to enroll in those programs.

That’s 8,400 more children who would be put on a path more likely to lead to success in later grades and graduation.

The evidence on the benefits of pre-K is overwhelming. It reduces the need for remedial instruction, grade repetition and special education services later in a child’s life. It leads to increased graduation rates and college and technical school enrollment.

Some examples:

  • A study in Michigan showed children who went to pre-K did better on fourth-grade math and literacy tests than students who did not have pre-K. They were also 35 percent less likely to repeat a grade.
  • Research in Pittsburgh Public Schools found that providing early intervention services in pre-K eliminated the need for special education services for 42 percent of children in kindergarten.
  • And a New Jersey analysis found children attending pre-K for one year were 30 percent less likely to repeat a grade. That percentage grew to 50 percent for children enrolled for two years.

There are many organizations in our community working to bring these valuable programs to our youngest learners.

The York City School District has been working to expand its pre-kindergarten programs in recent years, counting on it as a way to help better prepare students for their K-12 years. And York is lucky to have a number of other high quality options available.

But they need more support. Including the increases proposed by the governor in next year’s budget would make it easier to expand these high-impact programs and help us put more York and Pennsylvania children on the road to bright educational futures.

A few weeks ago, I sponsored a resolution in the House to mark the “Week of the Young Child” in Pennsylvania, because I believe that a child’s early years are critical to future success.

For that same reason, I’ll keep fighting for increased funding for high quality programs for our youngest learners.

The Republican budget that has passed the House and been forwarded to the Senate – a budget crafted without Democratic input or support – would dramatically reduce the early learning funding increases proposed by Wolf. It is my hope that we’ll be able to find a way to put those increases back in a final budget.

It’s good for our children, and it’s good for Pennsylvania.

Rep. Carol Hill-Evans is a Democrat from York City.

 Read the op-ed here.