PA Lawmakers Urged To Support Stronger Investments In Early Learning

Apr 23, 2013, 14:00 ET from Pennsylvania Early Childhood Coalition

HARRISBURG, Pa., April 23, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following is being released by the Pennsylvania Early Childhood Coalition:

Early learning advocates today called for greater state investments in high-quality, publicly funded pre-kindergarten and school-day and afterschool child care programs, citing the proven benefits of such investments and the need to reach more children.

Hundreds of taxpayers – including parents, teachers, service providers and others - filled the Capitol Rotunda for Early Childhood Action Day, an annual event to inform state policymakers directly about the importance of proven programs like Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts and Head Start, as well as school- day and afterschool child care services.

Gov. Tom Corbett's budget for fiscal 2013-14 proposed some increases to early learning programs. While advocates thanked the governor for these increases, they asked lawmakers to use the governor's proposal as a starting point for even more investment to reduce unmet need. Thousands of children who could benefit from early learning initiatives are missing out each school year because of inadequate funding. For instance:

  • Fewer than 17 percent of Pennsylvania's 3- and 4-year olds have access to high-quality, publicly funded pre-kindergarten.
  • More than 6,500 children are on the waiting list for Child Care Works, the state's program for subsidized child care assistance, and some of those children have been waiting for more than a year.
  • Only 20 percent of children enrolled in Child Care Works receive services at high-quality STAR 3 or 4 providers.

Department of Public Welfare Acting Secretary Beverly D. Mackereth was among the public officials who discussed the long-term economic and social benefits of early learning programs during an Early Childhood Action Day rally.

"Every child, regardless of where they live, deserves an opportunity to reach their full potential and overcome any risks or challenges they may face," Mackereth said. "When we focus on providing quality early learning prior to kindergarten, we have the potential to reduce public costs for remediation, special education, juvenile detention, corrections, and public assistance and health care."

State Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh) and Rep. Phyllis Mundy (D-Luzerne), co-chairs of the General Assembly's Early Childhood Education Caucus, also attended the rally.

"Strong investments in early childhood programs generate billions of dollars in savings and revenue for government budgets," Mundy said. "We all know that children who start behind, stay behind. We are also well aware that Pennsylvania will stay behind economically if we fall behind in these investments."

Browne commended the advocates for their efforts, saying: "State funding for quality early education programs is vital in giving at-risk young people the opportunity to succeed in school and later in life. It is just plain common sense that when children with developmental delays participate in early education programs, they are better equipped to maximize their primary and secondary education experience."

He noted young people who benefit from early learning opportunities "are more likely to graduate from high school and be productive members of our competitive high skilled future workforce. For these reasons, the commonwealth must continue to prioritize our commitment to Pre-K Counts, Head Start and Keystone Stars as part of our overall general fund budget process."

Organizers of the Early Childhood Action Day include the Pennsylvania Association for the Education of Young Children (PennAEYC) with support from Childspace CDI; The Early Care and Education Consortium; Pennsylvania Head Start Association; Pennsylvania Child Care Association; Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children; Pennsylvania Statewide Afterschool Youth Development Network; Public Citizens for Children and Youth; Fight Crime: Invest in Kids; Mission: Readiness; United Way of Pennsylvania; and numerous AEYC affiliates statewide.

SOURCE Pennsylvania Early Childhood Coalition