P Obama’s bold call for universal pre-K for the nation’s 4-year-olds during last week’s State of the Union address has reignited interest and brought welcome attention to the topic. He has since traveled to Georgia to press his agenda.
What would he find if he came to Pennsylvania?
He’d find a state whose major strides in providing pre-K and high-quality child care under Gov. Ed Rendell has stalled, and actually lost ground since Gov. Corbett took office. He’d find a governor who’s failed to put state money where his mouth is.
Corbett campaigned on his support for early-childhood education and vowed that, if elected, he’d “work to find more funding.”
The budget numbers don’t, however, match the rhetoric. Yes, his proposed 2013-2014 budget does restore some cuts made in his previous budgets, allocating an additional $6.4 million to Pre-K Counts and Head Start Supplemental Assistance, the state’s early-childhood-education programs. The fact is, though, much of that money will go for summer kindergarten- readiness programs for 2,500 children, rather than programs throughout the school year.
And the larger reality is that Corbett’s allocation for early- childhood education is $107 million less than when he took office.
The current reality:
• Only 6.5 percent of children in the region are enrolled in Pre-K Counts; 15 percent of eligible children are enrolled in Head Start.
• Less than a third of the more than 116,000 eligible children in the five-county region are getting child-care subsidies.
• Families are on waiting lists for as long as 11 months for child-care services.
A report released last year by the nonpartisan National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University noted that Pennsylvania made strides in providing access to Pre-K during the previous 10 years but has since lost ground, ranking 25th among the states in providing access. Pennsylvania ranks 10th in funding, but noted that spending had actually decreased by $850 per child the previous year.
During his Feb. 5 budget address, Corbett said he was increasing funds for early-childhood education “because every child in Pennsylvania deserves an equal start in life and I intend to keep that promise.”
There are too many children in Pennsylvania still waiting for that promise to be kept.