Fund Prekindergarten Expansion
The state budget process is under way and according to the Independent Fiscal Office, revenue collections for the year are more than $890.5 million above prior expected estimates. I hope this bodes well for increased and continued investments in services that benefit our commonwealth socially and economically. Gov. Tom Wolf and the Legislature have increased education funding but continued investments — like the proposed additional $50 million for quality prekindergarten programs — are sorely needed. Pennsylvania ranks 18th of 30 states investing in quality prekindergarten and some children are left without a high-quality public option. In Lackawanna and Luzerne counties, 4,300 eligible children are not served. We must do more to provide access to these children. With these promising fiscal reports, it seems the Legislature has the ability to do so. A recent study, “Pre-K Works for Scranton,” prepared by the Economy League, shows that quality prekindergarten has a positive impact on school readiness for children — academically and socially. Kindergarten teachers report that children who attend prekindergarten are better prepared than those who do not. In a city where 24% of residents live at the poverty level — and one-third of children under 5 live in households with earnings under the poverty level — prekindergarten makes a difference in the lives of children. Community leaders looking to improve educational outcomes and diminish the impacts of poverty should continue to leverage federal and state funding to broaden access to eligible children. The 1,100 children who live in the Scranton School District and are enrolled in quality publicly funded prekindergarten arrive better prepared than those who do not — meaning that their teachers can spend more time working directly with students and less time managing classroom behaviors. The prekindergarten program’s parents report a high level of satisfaction with the programs and parents are involved — which lays the foundation for strong family-school partnerships throughout a child’s K-12 education. These positive behaviors are a promising first step toward putting students on the right path to a career or college. Scranton has a long-standing tradition of putting children first. Community leaders have continued to improve education outcomes and diminish poverty by investing in prekindergarten education. This investment positions Scranton to better serve its children and its growing population. As this population has grown and shifted, programs have been able to effectively serve new residents thanks to relationships with service providers that allow them to connect with families where language or cultural barriers may exist, giving these children and their families a head start. Clearly, investments in prekindergarten will pay off in Pennsylvania. Leaders understand the value of investing in young learners and in our future. Lawmakers must continue in this effort and increase funding for prekindergarten in this year’s budget.