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From Times-Shamrock:

Pennsylvania's youngest children face serious hurdles getting ready to succeed in school, a report by a statewide advocacy group suggests.

The Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children released a "school readiness" report this week that finds about 40 percent of children under age 5 live in low-income families and thus, deal with economic difficulties. Weighing 16 indicators of child well-being covering matters ranging from health care to pre-school programs, the report finds children lost ground on six of those indicators as compared to last year.

The report records decreases in children with health insurance, access to child care and enrolled in pre-kindergarten programs. On a brighter note, more kindergartners are enrolled in full-day programs. The years from birth to age 5 are crucial to determining a child's ability to do well at school, the partnerships group said.

"The formative years between birth and 5 cannot be recaptured, so we need to do everything we can to ensure young children get the early learning experiences to create the foundation for a successful life," added PPC President Joan Benso.

Some troubling trends are evident in Northeast Pensylvania, according to the report.

In Lackawanna County, the number of children under age 5 living in low-income families (a family of four earning less than $44,000 annually) increased from 41 percent in the 2000 census to 47 percent in 2008, according to an American Community survey by the federal Census Bureau. In Schuylkill County, the comparable number increased from 38 percent to 45 percent, while in Luzerne County the percentage stayed around 44 percent.

The percentage of children up to age 4 in Lackawanna County who are uninsured increased from 0.7 percent in 2004 to 7 percent in 2008. The percentage of uninsured children decreased from 1.5 percent to 0.6 percent in Schuylkill and fell from 3.9 percent to 3.2 percent in Luzerne.

In another report indicator, the percentage of children under age 5 who live in a home where English is not the primary language increased from 1.5 percent in 2000 to 3.5 percent in 2008 in Lackawanna and Wayne counties. In Luzerne and Columbia counties, that percentage decreased from 4.6 percent to 1.8 percent. The percentage went from zero to 1 percent in Schuylkill County.

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