New Pre-K Classrooms celebration in Homewood. (Courtesy Photo)

New Pre-K classrooms celebration in Homewood. (Courtesy Photo)

Pittsburgh, Pa. – Local and state officials helped mark the expansion of a pre-kindergarten classroom at YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh’s Homewood-Brushton Child Development and Education Center on Sept. 19.

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 the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program as part of the 2016-17 state budget. Early learning providers in Allegheny County received new state funding to serve more than 400 additional children in the current school year. Pre-K Counts and the Head Start State Supplemental are the primary state funding sources for high-quality pre-k in Pennsylvania.

Cara Ciminillo, executive director of the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children, said the region’s new pre-k classrooms are a step in the right direction, but noted access to high-quality pre-k in Allegheny County remains a challenge. “Only 42 percent of income eligible 3- and 4-year-olds have access to publicly-funded high-quality pre-k in the county. This equates to more than 7,300 income eligible three- and four-year-olds still lacking access to publicly-funded high-quality pre-k every year,” Ciminillo said.

Statewide, more than 120,000 3- and 4-year-olds—or 69 percent of all 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.

Allegheny County Sheriff William Mullen 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. Mullen noted research compiled by the anti-crime organization Fight Crime: Invest In Kids showing that at-risk 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 state inmate population reveals that more than 50 percent of inmates have not graduated from high school,” said Mullen. “This revealing statistic is more reason for the imperative that law enforcement leaders place on educational success, which is best achieved by children getting a strong early educational foundation.”

Sheriff Mullen 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.”

Bruce Clash, Pennsylvania State 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 has more than 550 supporting organizations and more than 14,000 individual supporters who advocate for expanding access to high quality pre-k,” said Clash. “Given the fact that pre-k expansion has occurred under both Republican and Democratic Governors, we are hopeful that our state policy makers can again come together in a bipartisan fashion to find the resources necessary to continue to expand access in next year’s state budget.”

Also participating in the event were State Senator Randy Vulakovich; Jamie Hanson, assistant professor of Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh; Floyd Titus, managing partner J. Feltric Consulting; and officials from the YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh.

Fight Crime: Invest in Kids is a national anti-crime organization of police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, attorneys general and violence survivors, with about 160 members in Pennsylvania and over 5,500 members nationwide. For more information, visit http://www.fightcrime.org.

Pre-K for PA is an issue campaign supported by thousands of individuals and organizations across Pennsylvania who believe that investing in our children is a necessary and urgent priority. Fight Crime: Invest in Kids is one of 10 founding partners. For more information, visit prekforpa.org.

Also On New Pittsburgh Courier:
comments – Add Yours