The start of a New Year brings many new hopes and expectations as the PA General Assembly returns from their winter hiatus. As legislators from across the Commonwealth get ready for the start of the upcoming Legislative Session, there is no shortage of urgent policy and legislative challenges ahead for our elected officials. To name just a few, communities across the Commonwealth are facing an opiod crisis, we have ongoing budgetary shortfalls, desperate transportation and infrastructure needs and much more.
But there is no challenge more pressing than the need to increase state funding to support investments in high quality early learning for Pennsylvania’s children. That may seem like a bold statement given our state’s many competing priorities, but let’s take a look at why this is the case.
First, more than 85% of the foundational skills a child will need to succeed in life, like critical thinking, problem solving and teamwork, are developed by age five. So if you want to raise capable and productive future members of our society and workforce, we have to ensure that all of our children have access to high quality early learning environments.
Second, the overwhelming body of research and evidence shows that high quality early learning works. It has real, tangible results for society. Kids who participate in high quality early learning programs need fewer supports in school, have higher graduation rates, have higher rates of post-secondary educational success, and earn higher wages.
Third, the workforce of today relies heavily on child care. The fact is that the availability of child care dramatically affects the viability of our workforce and the stability of our state economy. Today’s working parents use child care in unprecedented numbers. At the same time, we have to remember that young children are learning all the time and that the type and quality of child care they receive greatly affects their development and their future success.
Finally, PA’s early education system strongly influences Pennsylvania’s economy through today’s and tomorrow’s workforce. In fact, investment in early learning generates an estimated return of 13% a year for our economy. That’s an enormous return on our investment.
But for too long our state’s policies and practices have not fully recognized the critical importance of investing in the earliest years of a child’s life. That is why the PA Early Learning Investment Commission has adopted a policy agenda that calls for a robust increase in the state’s support of PA’s young children.
Specifically, our policy agenda calls for:
- increased availability of evidence based-home visiting programs;
- Increased availability of high-quality child care through child care subsidies;
- Increased investments to improve child care quality, particularly for at risk kids; and
- Increased enrollment in high-quality pre-K.
This is clearly a big to-do list. However, our work is supported by a growing coalition of business leaders, advocates and organizations who are all committed to ensuring that our elected leaders in Harrisburg recognize that investing in early learning must be the highest priority for our Commonwealth.
As members of the Commission, we are working every single day to secure support for increased state investment in early childhood learning. We want our legislators in both the House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, to understand that addressing our need to invest more in early childhood learning is a challenge that impacts all corners of the state, and all levels of our economy.
The challenge of ensuring that all of our youngest learners have access to high quality early learning is daunting, and we should not shy away from the fact that it will require a significant increase in public resources. But the good news is we know it works and we know it will greatly benefit our economy and society.
Even better, it will have an enormous positive impact on Pennsylvania kids and families. It’s hard to name another policy area where the need is so great, the impact so meaningful and the path forward so clear.
We look forward to the General Assembly returning to Harrisburg and continuing its momentum of increasing our state’s investment in our children and our future.
– Tony Campisi is a Commissioner and the President & CEO Glatfelter Insurance Group in York PA