Tw0-thirds of Luzerne County children age 3 and 4 lack access to quality pre-kindergarten classes, according to data released by an advocacy group.
The percentage may be high, but it’s lower than many neighboring counties. In Carbon and Columbia counties, 80 percent of children in the age group lack access.
In Luzerne County, 4,532 of the 6,765 children ages 3 and 4 don’t have access to quality pre-K, the report says.
Lackawanna County is doing better, though 53 percent of the 4,722 children ages 3 and 4 still lack access. Sparsely populated Sullivan County is the best among adjacent counties, with only 49 percent of children lacking access, but the number of children ages 3 and 4 is so low — 102 — that small numerical changes can make big percentage changes.
Data on access to high-quality pre-k programs for all Pennsylvania counties was released by a coalition of organizations and individuals working collectively as “Pre-K for PA.”
The group wants to draw attention to the lack of programs and the benefits it contends are gained by getting children into early-learning programs.
Each county’s fact sheet includes statistics from research that found, among other things, that high-quality pre-K:
• Reduces grade repetition by as much as a third through eighth grade;
• Reduces special-education placements by nearly half through second grade;
• Increases the likelihood of high school graduation and college enrollment.
“Nearly a quarter of a million children statewide are missing out on the once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity high-quality pre-k provides,” Joan Benso, executive director of the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children said in a news release.
“The sooner this important learning opportunity is made available to more Pennsylvania children, the sooner we can see the increased benefits to our children, our communities and the commonwealth,” she said.
Luzerne County provides greater access to pre-K than four of the five counties closest in population statewide: In Westmoreland County, 71 percent lack access; in Lehigh County, it’s 75 percent; in Dauphin County, it’s 75 percent; and in Northampton County, with almost the same number of 3 and 4 year-olds, 84 percent lack access.
Only Erie County, with about 100 more children in the studied age group, has a lower rate than Luzerne County among the five reviewed: 62 percent.
Luzerne County Head Start Executive Director Lynn Biga said that, while her agency serves about 1,100 children, there is still a waiting list of at least 500.
Biga said federal sequestration cuts last year forced the agency to reduce Head Start enrollment by 32 and cut Early Head Start, which provides services at home, for 17 children. That money is being restored and those slots will be filled again, she added.
Gov. Tom Corbett has proposed increased money for Pre-K Counts, the state-funded portion of Head Start Programs, and Biga said the local agency is asking for enough money to set up one more classroom serving 18 children, but that would depend on the state Legislature adopting Corbett’s proposed increase.