PA Fails Low-Income Preschoolers

Waslala Miranda |

A national education report card gave Pennsylvania a grade of D+ and a ranking of 41st among states for early childhood education. 

Every year the Education Week Research Center releases its report card on K-12 school performances for each state. This year it added preschool data to its report.  Pennsylvania earned such a poor grade due to its low performance in providing equal access to quality preschool education for all children, regardless of family income.

The report looked at how family income affected preschool enrollment and found that in Pennsylvania:

  • ·  Two-thirds of children in households with annual incomes above $100,000 attend preschool.
  • ·  The same is true of only one in five children in households with annual incomes below $20,000.

Education advocates blame state government policies that do not make it a priority to provide equal opportunities for low-income children to attend preschool.  While other states have increased their preschool education funding, Pennsylvania’s preschool funding has remained flat, causing its youngest students to fall behind.

Pennsylvania does have a state program to deal with this educational inequality, Pre-K Counts, but advocates say it’s overwhelmed by demand.  You can see that in Southeastern Pennsylvania.  Excluding Philadelphia, there are about 8,000 young children who qualify for Pre-K Counts, but only a few hundred participate on a first-come, first-serve basis.  Without public assistance, low-income families simply cannot afford private preschool, which can cost about $20,000 a year for two children.

To ensure low-income children receive a quality preschool education, advocates say it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars—but that’s still a bargain.  They point to research showing that for every $1 invested in quality preschool education for all, the state will receive at least $7 in return in reduced spending on public assistance and special education, and increased tax revenues thanks to higher earnings.

Whether Pennsylvania earns a better grade next year will be determined by what Gov.-Elect Wolf and the legislature do about preschool education funding.