Access to high-quality pre-K significantly improves children’s language, literacy, math, and social/emotional skills. However, Pennsylvania has been losing ground on pre-K accessibility compared to other states with relatively low percentages of three-year-olds and four-year-olds in our state attending pre-K.
Ninety percent of brain development in children takes place by the age of five. This makes early childhood education especially critical in a child’s mental, physical, and emotional development.
Research shows that attending a pre-K program has numerous and significant benefits. Access to high-quality pre-K significantly improves children’s language, literacy, math, and social/emotional skills when they enter kindergarten, thereby lessening disparities in learning that exist from the very beginning of school. The effects of quality pre-K programs go beyond primary school as well. Participants in pre-K programs are more likely to graduate high school and enroll in college, which not only benefits them but our state’s economy as well. One analysis of 20 studies of high-quality pre-K programs shows that the economic benefit for each child who attends a good pre-K program adds up to more than $34,000 for each child served, which includes reductions in the cost of crime, special education, and grade repetition, as well as increases in wages over a lifetime. (Click here for citations to this research.)
Access to affordable pre-K also helps low- and middle-income families by eliminating the often crushing costs of early childhood education and childcare. In Pennsylvania, the annual average cost of a four-year-old’s childcare in a center is $8,727, which is out of reach for many families of modest means.
Pre-K is incredibly popular among the residents of Pennsylvania, and universal access for three- and four- year-olds should be a priority for us as a state. Seventy-five percent of Pennsylvania voters favor an increase in funding for high-quality, publicly funded pre-K in the state.
Pennsylvania’s Pre-K Counts and Head Start Supplemental Assistance programs have seen increased funding between 2010-11 and 2018-19 of 107% (from $121 to $251 million). Governor Wolf proposes an increase of 20% for 2019-2020.
Despite growing investment in pre-K education, only 39% of eligible children in Pennsylvania benefit from high-quality, publicly funded pre-K. The percentage of eligible children served by publicly funded pre-K reaches 60% in only 8 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. In 26 counties, between 40% and 60% of eligible children have no access to publicly funded pre-K. In the remaining 33 counties, the percentage is less than 40% of eligible children.
As of 2017, Pennsylvania is 37th in per-capita spending on high-quality pre-K education. (Chart from Pre-K for PA campaign. http://www.prekforpa.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Why-Not-PA-report_web.pdf. Data from
Despite increases in pre-K attendance, Pennsylvania is behind all of our neighboring states except Ohio in attendance by four-year-olds, and behind New Jersey in attendance by three-year-olds.