New data shows 77 percent of eligible kids in Lehigh County lack access to pre-k;
Leaders urge continued state investment to further reduce unmet need
Allentown, PA – Pennsylvania Senate Appropriations Chairman Pat Browne, joined Allentown area leaders for a mid-year pre-k visit at the Cuddle Zone Learning Center. Officials took the opportunity to visit with pre-k students and their families in state-funded Pre-K Counts classrooms.
“Greater access to high-quality pre-k is an essential investment in the future of our community,” said Don Bernhard, Executive Director of Downtown Allentown Community Development and Commissioner with the PA Early Learning Investment Commission. Bernhard continued, “Pre-k programs are backed by decades of research showing that children who attend have a more positive trajectory in life. This means more kids finishing high school, getting a job, less reliance on social services and less crime in our community.”
Pre-K Counts classrooms at Cuddle Zone are made possible by state early learning funding which saw a $30 million increase as part of the state’s 2017-2018 budget. Lehigh County early learning providers received new funding for 41 expansion seats. Pre-K Counts and the Head Start State Supplemental are the primary state funding sources for high-quality pre-k in Pennsylvania.
Bruce Clash, State Director of Fight Crime: Invest In Kids noted that the added capacity to high-quality pre-k is welcome news as only 23 percent of income eligible 3- and 4-year-olds in Lehigh County have access to publicly funded high-quality pre-k according to new data from the Pre-K for PA Campaign.
“While the nearly 3,700 children statewide that gained access to high quality pre-k this school year is something to celebrate, we still have a lot of work to do,” said Clash. “More than 4,300 income eligible three- and four-year-olds in Lehigh County still lack access to this once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity.”
More than 106,000 eligible children, or 61 percent of all three- and four-year-olds, across the commonwealth lack access to publicly funded, high-quality pre-k each year.
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.
Allentown Police Chief Glen Dorney 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 later in life.
“A review of Pennsylvania’s state inmate population reveals that more than 50 percent of inmates have not graduated from high school,” Dorney commented. “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.”
Participants thanked Senator Browne for supporting increased pre-k funding in the 2017-18 state budget, and encouraged all state policy makers to make increasing access to high-quality pre-k a top priority for current 2018-19 state budget negotiations in Harrisburg. Governor Tom Wolf has included $40 million in new state pre-k funding as part of his 2018-19 budget proposal.
Also participating in the event were Michele McEllroy, Director of Cuddle Zone Learning Center and Heather Scherer, Education Director at Cuddle Zone Learning Center.
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.
For more information, visit prekforpa.org.