HARRISBURG, Pa. – A majority of eligible children in every Pennsylvania community misses out on the benefits of high quality, publicly funded pre-kindergarten, according to a new report.

The report by Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children says about 70 percent of eligible children in rural and suburban districts – and more than half living in urban districts – lack access to the programs that can have lasting effects on their education, and even their success as adults.

According to Joan Benso, the group’s president and CEO, state spending on pre-K is an investment that really pays off.

“For every dollar we invest in high quality pre-Kindergarten, we will save the taxpayers $17 later in reduced grade retention, special education, juvenile crime and adult welfare costs,” she points out.

The report says 64 percent of children who are eligible for publicly funded pre-K statewide, almost 113,000 children, are not being served.

Benso is urging Gov. Tom Wolf and the state legislature to make 2017 the “year of the child” by expanding the state’s commitment to early childhood education.

“And the first way they would do that is by making a sizable investment, at least $85 million, to fund 10,000 new seats in high-quality preschool programs,” she states.

The report says an additional $340 million by the 2020 to 2021 fiscal year would be needed to serve all eligible children.

A high percentage of publicly funded pre-K programs are provided by child care centers.

Benso points out that state child care payment rates haven’t increased in almost 10 years, making it difficult for those centers to meet the standards for quality.

“If they can’t achieve those high quality standards, they can’t participate in pre-K funding,” Benson points out. “This is part of the challenge we have in the availability of enough high quality programs to serve eligible kids.”

The report recommends increasing state child care payment rates as a way to expand the pool of providers able to achieve the quality standards.

by Andrea Sears