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A new national report finds about 3 in 5 low-income Pennsylvania children lack access to preschool, despite evidence that high-quality early childhood programs have a "powerful and lasting impact" on children throughout school and into adulthood.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation's latest KIDS COUNT® policy report, The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation for Lifetime Success, makes the case for greater state and federal investments in education initiatives targeted at the first 8 years of a child's life, with an emphasis on helping low-income children access high-quality preschool programs.

"We need to act on this national imperative," the report finds, noting: "Every day that we delay is a day in the life of a child who could be benefitting from critical interventions. … Policymakers at the federal, state and local levels should look to the decades of evidence on best practices in early childhood fields as they advance their legislative efforts."

The report notes about 43 percent of Pennsylvania children age 8 and under lived in "low-income households" in 2012 (defined as households earning less than 200% of federal poverty level, or $46,566 for a family of four) and 61 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds in those low-income households were not enrolled in preschool. Nationally, 48 percent of children ages 0-8 live in low-income households, and 63 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds in those households are not enrolled in preschool, according to the report.

"Every child should have the opportunity to succeed in school and in life regardless of the situation into which they are born, and high-quality early learning helps provide that opportunity," Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children President and CEO Joan Benso said. "This report shows we still have significant work ahead of us if we want to reap the full social and economic benefits that early learning generates."

To better prepare all children for success, the report makes three basic policy recommendations:

  • Support parents so they can effectively care and provide for their children. States and the federal government should make it easier for parents to navigate the array of programs that can help families by aligning and streamlining services. This is necessary because poverty presents challenges for families and their young children and access to income supports and opportunities for parents to gain education and skills are critical.
  • Increase access to high-quality birth through age eight programs, beginning with investments that target low-income children. States should adopt Early Learning and Development Standards that set clear expectations for child development. They also should provide resources needed for all children to reach important benchmarks, such as grade-level reading proficiency by third grade. In addition to having high-quality care and education for all kids, states must ensure access to affordable and comprehensive health care with timely screenings that can catch disabilities or developmental delays in young children.
  • Develop comprehensive, integrated programs and data systems to address all aspects of a child's development and support their transition to elementary school and related programs for school-age children. States should use consistent measures of child development that provide broad assessments of well-being, including progress across key aspects of development. Coordinated educational efforts should use transition planning models that help children move successfully through their first eight years.

 

The report is available online at www.aecf.org. Additional information is available in the KIDS COUNT Data Center, which also contains the most recent national, state and local data on hundreds of indicators of child well-being. The Data Center allows users to create rankings, maps and graphs for use in publications and on websites, and to view real-time information on mobile devices.

Later this month, PPC will release its annual School Readiness report, which details how well Pennsylvania is doing preparing its youngest children for school by gauging progress on several child well-being indicators, including access to publicly funded pre-kindergarten programs such as Pre-K Counts and Head Start.

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