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Report: PA Needs More Investment in Quality Early Learning Programs

The commonwealth needs more investment to ensure children have access to high-quality preschool and child care programs according to a report by the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children (PPC).

The PPC releases the School Readiness report each year analyzing the commonwealth’s access to high-quality early learning programs.

While the report released this week shows some “modest gains,” more needs to be done according to Michael Race, Vice President for Communications.

He said 18.9 percent of the children in the state are receiving high-quality public pre-K compared to 17 percent in 2013.

But only one in six of Pennsylvania’s three- and four-year-olds have access to the programs according to Race.

“That means of the nearly 300,000 three- and four-year-olds in the state, nearly a quarter million of those children still do not have access to high-quality publically funded pre-K,” Race said.

He said Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts, which received about $97 million in the 2014-15 budget, and Head Start Supplemental Assistance, which received $39 million, are considered the commonwealth’s primary high-quality public programs.

The report adds that 7.5 percent of children benefit from high-quality child care.

“Our goal at Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children is not simply to make child care more accessible,” Race said. “It’s to make sure the that child care that is available is of a high-quality care that is actually nurturing a child’s cognitive and social skills and helping them prepare for the day that they inevitably enter kindergarten.”

He said research shows every dollar invested in high-quality learning returns about $17 in societal benefits – including more people paying taxes as a result of increased lifetime earnings as well as decreased dropout rates.

“Anything we can do that reduces dropout rates, increases graduation rates and increases employment opportunities basically means there’s going to be less reliance on social services, there’s going to be less likelihood of someone going to prison or going on the wrong side of the law,” Race said.

That means the child, the community and the commonwealth all benefit.

“What we need in this state is not just increased state investment in high-quality early learning, but to aggressively increase it,” Race said. “Because we have been stagnant in early learning opportunities for our children for many years now, and if we’re really serious about reaping the full benefits of high quality early learning, we’ve got to start putting our money where our mouth is.”

The fiscal year 2014-15 budget included $444.7 million for early child care and education.

Race said he hopes Governor Tom Wolf fulfills his campaign promise to increase access – with his first budget proposal due early next month.