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Access for All: A Fight for Pre-K for PA

Melissa S. Treacy

Wednesday, March 12, 2014 • 8:29pm

According to a recent study, 95 percent of children between ages 3 and 4 do not have access to a publicly funded high quality pre-kindergarten program. One organization is striving to change that.

On Wednesday, March 5, a crowd of 40 enthusiastic volunteers for Pre-K for PA, a statewide coalition focused on promoting accessible, high-quality pre-k for all 3- and 4-year-olds in Pennsylvania, gathered at Montgomery County Community College. The group of thoroughly engaged activists met to discuss what Sarah Whetstone called “an important goal.”

The meeting, led Sarah Whetstone, who serves as the director of United Way of North Penn, focused on ways to make the issue of early education a focus in the upcoming Pennsylvania gubernatorial election.

"It's time for Pennsylvania to join states across the country - from Maryland to Oklahoma - in finding ways to ensure that all of our children have access to high-quality pre-k," Whetstone said. "The benefits of early childhood education are clear, yet 1 in 6 of Pennsylvania's kids do not have access to high-quality pre-k.”

Whetstone is working with the organization in conjunction with many others. Pre-K for PA brings together the following agencies promoting the focus:

 

·      Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children

·      Public Citizens for Children and Youth

·      The Pittsburgh Association for Education of Young Children (AEYC )

·      The Delaware Valley AEYC

·      United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey

·      Economy League of Greater Philadelphia

·      Mission: Readiness Military Leaders for Kids

·      Penn AEYC

·      Fight Crime: Invest in Kids

·      The Pennsylvania Head Start Association

 

Whetstone said that creating access for all of the state’s children is important.

“This crucial issue must be a focus for all candidates on the campaign trail this year," she said.

The organization aims to unite those seeking a change together.

“With this as an important election year in Pennsylvania, and it was clear from the crowd gathered yesterday evening that it is a perfect time to ask candidates: ‘Why only 1 in 6?’” said Whetstone. “States are finding ways for all of their children to have access to high-quality pre-k. Why not Pennsylvania?”

Statewide, according to the organization, only one in six children have access to a publicly funded, quality preschool education. The group focuses to get access for all from age 3 to 4.

To understand more about Pre-K for PA, view the video below:

 

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Currently, the Pennsylvania Department of Education places counties such as Montgomery under at “low” risk level. According to its 2010 data, of the 20,076 3- to 4-year-olds only 283 are enrolled in a “PA Pre-K Counts” program, or those that are publicly funded. Communities with PA Pre-K Counts, or publically funded high quality programs, are located in Pottstown, Jenkintown, Blue Bell, Norristown, Glenside and Abington. The nearest funded program for those in Lower Providence Township would be located at Freedom Valley YMCA.

The Audubon YMCA, located at 2460 Boulevard of the Generals, is the closest such preschool program for area youth. The program also coordinates with Methacton School District and in many cases offers bussing to and from the school once a child starts kindergarten. The Y also offers latchkey programs for those in need.

Until all youth have access to programs such as the YMCA’s, those at Pre-K for PA will continue to bring the issue before local and state government.

A recent study from the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children entitled “A Smart Choice for a Solid Start,” said that there are approximately 19,320 children ages 3 and 4 in Montgomery County. Of those children, 5,923 are labeled as 300 percent below the poverty line. The PPC said that Montgomery County has only around 5 percent of its 3- and 4-year-olds in a publicly funded, high quality Pre-K program.

According to the study, of the children so well below the poverty line, 83 percent are without access to such a program.

For a full report with county-level data and statewide statistics, visit the PPC report online here.

Pre-K for PA fights to change that statistic. The organization and its hardworking volunteers, many of which gathered at MCCC last week, will continue to work to inform community members and leaders of the need.

For more information on the organization, visit the Pre-K for PA website here to get involved, or sign the organization’s petition to gain attention of local leaders.

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