On Tuesday, February 7th, Pennsylvania’s Governor Tom Wolf (D) announced his budget proposal for 2017-18, which prioritizes investing in the state’s youngest constituents in the form of a $75 million increase in funding for high-quality early childhood education. $65 million would go towards the Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts program and $10 million would go towards Head Start Supplemental Assistance. This alone would allow 8,400 additional children to access quality early learning. An additional $35 million would be appropriated for child care and $9 million for evidence-based home visiting programs.
All parents want what is best for their children, but the best opportunities are often out of reach for those families who need them most. The FFYF 2016 national bipartisan poll found that only 24 percent of voters thought that all or most of the early childhood programs in their area were high-quality and affordable. Access to high-quality early childhood education and care isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity.
The core federal early learning and care programs provide a critical service to children from low-income backgrounds, but the population of children eligible for services far outpaces the availability of services, making state-federal partnerships all the more vital to ensuring a continuum of high-quality, affordable care. The good news is that the upward trend in significant early learning investments seen in Pennsylvania is happening in other states across the country. According to the Education Commission of the States’ latest report, a 50-State Review on State Pre-K Funding, state funding for pre-K has increased by $480 million across the board since FY2015-16. Looking five years back, the state-level investment in pre-k programs alone has increased by 47%.
Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children recently released an interactive map that visualizes unmet Pre-K need and accessibility issues across the state: “About 177,000 are eligible to participate in publicly funded, high-quality pre-kindergarten programs, but nearly 113,000 remain unserved.” The significant funding increase in the state budget is a pivotal step towards serving all eligible children.