Officials celebrate expansion of Pre-K efforts

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A number of local officials gathered to celebrate the opening of the Warwick Cedarville Childcare Center, including Chester County district Attorney Tom Hogan, State Sen. (and Attorney General candidate) John Rafferty and Chester County Commissioners Chair Terence Farrell.

State, county and local education officials helped mark the expansion of pre-kindergarten classrooms at the Warwick Cedarville Childcare Center in Pottstown.

The expansion of high-quality pre-k was made possible by the infusion of an additional $25 million in funding for Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts and $5 million for Head Start in the state’s partially-enacted 2015-16 budget.

Local early learning providers received new grants in excess of $700,000, which enabled services to more than 200 preschoolers for the remainder of the current school year. Pre-K Counts and the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program (HSSAP) are the primary state funding sources for high-quality pre-k in Pennsylvania.

Diana Neatrour, Administrator of Warwick Childcare Centers, said the new pre-k classrooms are a step in the right direction, but noted access to high-quality pre-k in Chester County remains a challenge. “Only 17 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds in Chester County have access to publicly- funded, high-quality pre-k, which leaves more than 4,300 of our county’s 3- and 4-year-olds without access each year,” Neatrour said.

Statewide, more than 120,000 eligible young learners are missing out on publicly-funded, high- quality pre-k each year. This lack of access is especially troubling considering the proven benefits it has for children, schools and communities. A large body of research shows children who benefit from high-quality pre-k:

  • Enter kindergarten with stronger literacy, language, math and social/emotional skills;
  • Are less likely to need special education services, less likely to repeat grades, and more likely to graduate and enroll in college.
  • Over a lifetime, these young learners will see stronger employment opportunities and increased earning potential, and they are less likely to commit juvenile and adult crimes.

Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan stressed the role high-quality pre-k plays in reducing disruptive or anti-social behaviors that, if unaddressed, can lead to delinquent and criminal behavior. Hogan noted research compiled by the anti-crime organization Fight Crime: Invest In Kids showing that kids who attend high-quality early learning programs are dramatically less likely to commit crime and more likely to graduate from high school.

“A review of Pennsylvania’s inmate population reveals that more than 50 percent of inmates have not graduated from high school,” said Hogan. “This revealing statistic is more evidence that there is a clear opportunity to educate rather than incarcerate.  And, it is imperative that education must start early.”

District Attorney Hogan added: “Independent cost-benefit analyses show that high-quality pre-k can return, on average, net benefits to society of nearly $30,000 for every child served. These benefits accrue largely due to reductions in the cost of future crime and increases in participants’ future wages, as well as other costs such as children being held back in school or receiving special education services.”

Steve Doster, PA Deputy Director of Fight Crime: Invest In Kids noted the strong bi-partisan support both locally and across the state for growing access to high-quality pre-k.  “The Pre-K for PA Campaign boasts more than 550 supporting organizations and more than 14,000 individual supporters who support expanding access to high quality pre-k,” said Doster. “Given the fact that pre-k expansion has occurred under both Republican and Democratic Governors, we are hopeful that our state policy makers can come together in a bipartisan fashion to find the resources necessary to expand access in the 2016-17 state budget.”

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