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Increased Pre-k Access is Key to Reaching More At-Risk Children

Pre-k advocates and United Way officials around the commonwealth are calling on Pennsylvania to increase its commitment to making high-quality pre-k more accessible to young learners, particularly those at greatest risk of academic failure due to economic disadvantages.

The United Way and other philanthropies have done laudable work to promote high-quality pre-k as a smart investment for Pennsylvania’s children and communities, but philanthropies alone lack the resources needed to significantly boost pre-k access to all children who need it, said PPC President and CEO Joan Benso.

“We need the state to step up and make pre-k a budget priority now and in the years ahead. Our kids can’t wait,” Benso said.

The push to increase pre-k access is bolstered by a new report – “The Case for Pre-k in PA” – that outlines a multi-year investment strategy Pennsylvania can implement to provide high-quality pre-k to most at-risk children, as well as some middle-income children. The report was prepared by Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children (PPC), a founding partner of the statewide Pre-K for PA campaign.

“This report details the many benefits pre-k has for kids and communities, ranging from improving school readiness and graduation rates to reducing the need for special education services and criminal justice costs,” Benso said. “But it also highlights some troubling statistics regarding the lack of availability of high-quality pre-k, particularly when it comes to children at risk of academic failure.”

Across Pennsylvania, there are more than 175,000 3- and 4-year-olds who are at-risk because they are in lower income households. Yet 70 percent of these at-risk young learners – more than 120,000 children statewide – had no access to publicly funded pre-k last year. This lack of access is especially troubling given high-quality pre-k can have the greatest benefits for at-risk children in terms of preparing them for kindergarten.

The report finds that if Pennsylvania were to increase state funding for high-quality pre-k gradually over this fiscal year and the following three years, we could make high-quality pre-k available to more than 40 percent of the commonwealth’s 3- and 4-year-olds, compared to fewer than 20 percent who benefited in 2013.

United Way of Pennsylvania President Kristen Rotz noted many United Way affiliates across the commonwealth have made school readiness a priority issue, and high-quality pre-k is “among the best and most cost-effective initiatives for preparing children for success in school and beyond.”

“United Ways and other community-based philanthropic organizations have made great efforts over the years to promote high-quality pre-k as a critical part of developing well-educated children and strong communities,” Rotz said. “But as with so many efforts to strengthen communities, it takes a collaboration. In this case, we need the commonwealth to bolster its efforts to fund high-quality pre-k programs to reach those children who are missing out.”

The “Case for Pre-k in PA” report and supporting information, including county-level data on pre-k access, can be found at www.papartnerships.org or www.prekforpa.org. 

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