Early Childhood Supports are Helping Pennsylvania Families in Tough Economy

Oct 04, 2011, 09:00 ET from Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children

PA Partnerships for Children Releases 2011 School Readiness Report

HARRISBURG, Pa., Oct. 4, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As Pennsylvania families continue to struggle through a sluggish economy, critical state programs are proving essential to helping young children grow up healthy and succeed in school, according to a new state report on school readiness.

The 2011 School Readiness report, released today by Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, found publicly funded pre-kindergarten and child care subsidies are helping children at a critical time in their lives, even as their families struggle to maintain self-sufficiency.

"Poverty is at records levels in Pennsylvania, with more than 40 percent of children under age 5 living in low-income households," said PPC President and CEO Joan Benso. "If there ever was a time that our children needed proven programs to help them thrive, it's now."

The annual School Readiness report details how well Pennsylvania is doing preparing its youngest children for school by gauging progress on several child well-being indicators, including accessibility to quality early learning resources and medical care.

This year's report found one state program – subsidized child care – is helping thousands of struggling Pennsylvania families stay employed and make ends meet while having the assurance their children are in a safe, nurturing environment.

More than 42,000 slots are available in Pennsylvania's subsidized child care system to infants, toddlers and preschool children in low-income households. In many cases, these households earn enough to stay above the federal poverty level – defined as $22,350 a year for a family of four – but still struggle to provide their children with the basic necessities.

"Many of the struggling families who benefit from child care subsidy live in counties with a high cost-of-living, where even a household income that is double or triple the government's definition of 'poverty level' is still not enough to get by," Benso said. "These are vulnerable families that rely on the subsidy so they can afford child care and hold down jobs."

Scaling back the income eligibility for child care subsidy would push these families out of the program and possibly onto other, more costly forms of assistance.

The 2011 School Readiness report also shows about 18 percent of Pennsylvania's 3- and 4-year-olds are benefiting from publicly funded pre-k programs – roughly the same percentage that benefited last year. While PPC would like to see the availability of quality pre-k increase, Benso said policymakers must be equally adamant about not cutting back on such proven programs as a quick fix for the state's budget woes.

"If we cut back on our investments in children at such a critical time, we're crushing opportunities for our children when we should be creating opportunities for them," she said. "Every young child who loses out on the opportunity to have quality early learning is likely to face a much more difficult, and costly, future in school – and we all pay the price for that loss."

Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children is a statewide, independent, non-profit organization dedicated to improving the health, education and well-being of children and youth.

The 2011 School Readiness report is available online at www.papartnerships.org.

More information may be obtained by contacting PPC Communications Director Michael Race at 717-236-5680

SOURCE Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children