Pittsburgh City Council has given preliminary approval to a measure that would establish the Office of Early Childhood within the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment and Equal Opportunity, and hire an early childhood manager.
The ultimate goal is to ensure every child in the City of Pittsburgh has access to quality pre-K programs. During about an hour of public testimony, speakers voiced overwhelming support for an office dedicated to the education of some of the city’s youngest residents.
“Children attending high-quality early childhood programs are much more likely to graduate from high school and go on to higher education, more likely to stay out of trouble and more likely to be in good health,” said Randy Duva, operator of Small World Early Learning & Development Centers in Pittsburgh.
Duva said having a dedicated office would help improve options, quality and access to early learning programs.
Educators testifying said the results of early childhood education are clear.
“Any kindergarten teacher can tell you in a minute which child had a quality preschool program and which did not,” said Carol Barone-Martin, executive director of early childhood education at Pittsburgh Public Schools. “We follow the children that have quality preschool and we see, not just in kindergarten, but whenever they get to third or fourth grade, we see a difference.”
That was echoed by parent Emily Cleath. She volunteers in her son’s kindergarten class at a PPS magnet school and said overall, the children are bright, trusting and eager to learn.
“Already, though, one of them has been suspended – a 5-year-old,” said Cleath, “because he was hitting and acting out, because he hadn’t been to preschool and he hadn’t had the socialization to learn how to handle conflicts or to understand what appropriate behavior is.”
Access and affordability stands in the way of many families sending their children to early learning programs, according to several of those testifying.
The Office of Early Childhood would work with Pittsburgh Public Schools and the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children on sharing funding sources to improve services and opportunities for families.
The City of Pittsburgh is home to more than 15,000 children age 5 and younger. City Council is slated to take a final vote next week.