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Rudiak To Push For Pre-K Funding Task Force

Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA
Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak speaks during a press conference Feb. 23, 2017 about early childhood education.

City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak says she's planning to introduce legislation Tuesday to create a task force charged with finding funding for children otherwise unable to attend preschool.

Citing a 2016 Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers report, Rudiak said 1,500 Pittsburgh children do not have access to full-day preschool deemed "high quality" by the Pennsylvania Keystone STARS initiative. The standards evaluate programs for staff qualifications, curriculum, facility environment and community and family involvement, among other things. 

Rudiak said it would cost about about $15 million dollars to cover enrollment costs for those students.

“This is going to be a long process, because funding needs to go to centers to improve quality but also to children for the tuition itself,” she said.  

The task force would include a representative of Pittsburgh Public Schools, the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, foundation representatives, advocacy groups, teachers and parents. A council member will also be on the task force. Rudiak has said she will not seek re-election. Her term ends Dec. 31.

Erin Kramer, executive director of the activist group One Pennsylvania, said an investment in pre-Kindergarten is an investment in parents.

“The economic stress that a family feels when a child is either not cared for or when they’re carrying the full cost of that care is immense," she said. "We have members who are paying more for childcare than they pay for their housing.”

Pittsburgh is designated a second-class city, meaning the city can’t create a new tax to cover preschool tuition in the way Philadelphia did with its sweetened beverage tax.

If Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget is approved, $75 million more will be distributed for high quality early childhood education.

Locally, Rudiak said the task force will pursue what she calls "unique funding sources," which could include money from local foundations.

If approved, the group’s work will be based on recommendations from a 2014 task force, the Blue Ribbon Panel on Early Education, assembled then by Mayor Bill Peduto.