York Daily Record: Op-ed: On Budget Impasse, Your Voice Matters

As an advocate for early childhood education, I am traveling the state hearing stories about how the state budget impasse is affecting children and families. Recently, I was in Huntingdon County at a Head Start classroom. The center was forced to secure two bridge loans to keep these state-funded classrooms open. This funding will last through Thanksgiving, then their doors will close to the 120 children and families they serve, and people will be laid off.

Stories like these are playing out in every county in Pennsylvania. Parents and teachers are frustrated, worried and ask me what can we do?

You can do something. Use your voice and let your legislators and the governor know what’s important to you.

Every legislator tells me they need to hear from their constituents about what matters to them. Republicans, Democrats, leadership, rank-and-file members; all need to be contacted. Ask your legislators to go to their leadership with your concerns.

Don’t worry if you can’t talk to your legislator directly. They will be updated by their staff on the issues their constituents are concerned about.

Through my travels I have heard your voice saying, “We need a budget, the right budget that moves the needle on serving more of the roughly 200,000 3 and 4-year-olds without access to high quality pre-k.” Call, email or visit your legislators’ offices. Tell them your story like you have told me. Tell them that all of Pennsylvania’s young children deserve access to high quality pre-k and that begins with $120 million more in funding in a final state budget.

Give them the evidence: 90 percent of a person’s brain develops by the age of 5. People learn their entire lives, but the connections in the brain that help you learn later are made during the first five years.

Whether you care about crime prevention, national security, the economy or K-12 funding, you should support investing in high-quality pre-k. Pennsylvania’s district attorneys, chiefs of police and sheriffs who are part of Fight Crime: Invest In Kids see investing in pre-k as a crime prevention strategy. Children who attend high-quality pre-k are dramatically less likely to be engaged in later crime, are better prepared for school and have positive opportunities later. Retired generals and admirals that are part of Mission: Readiness: they see pre-k as part of the long term solution to correct the shocking statistic that 70 percent of young people do not qualify for military service. Business organizations like The Economy League of Greater Philadelphia say investing in high-quality pre-k helps current and future workforce development. Children that attend are up to 44 percent more likely to graduate high school. And an immediate return of almost $2 for every dollar invested and a long term return of almost $17 for every dollar invested.

I have heard your voice, now let your legislators and Gov. Wolf know.

Your voice matters.

Stephanie Siegel-Mock is the director of public policy and outreach for the Pennsylvania Association for the Education of Young Children and the outreach coordinator for the Pennsylvania Head Start Association.

Read the full op-ed here.