Op-Ed: If You Build It, They Can’t Come.
By Kathleen Brown McHale Oct. 21, 2015
Current research concludes that a child’s brain is 90 percent developed by age 5. This means that the preschool years are the most important for our children’s mental, social and emotional growth. Studies also suggest that every dollar spent on high-quality preschool saves society from $9 to $13 in future costs: less specialized education, less crime, fewer school dropouts and lower unemployment. How many other investments can boast those returns? How many others even come close to the importance of investing in a young child’s development, education and future?
The governor included an additional $120 million investment in his budget proposal for Pre-K Counts, a no-cost high-quality preschool program for working families. A family of three with an income of up to $60,270 qualifies for a free 30-hour-a-week preschool program that meets Pennsylvania’s highest early learning standards. In anticipation of the new budget, the School District of Philadelphia asked qualified partner organizations to expand their current Pre-K Counts programs. The school district typically contracts with qualified early education providers across the city at a rate that is lower than they would have to spend to provide the service themselves. SPIN is one such provider, awarded the highest quality rating by the Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning. SPIN agreed to expand its Pre-K Counts Program, and soon after, leased and began renovating a small school building in Parkwood.
Knowing that the governor included additional resources for Pre-K Counts in his budget proposal and understanding that, in the legislature, both sides of the aisle believed in expanding the program, SPIN used its own money to lease and renovate the school building to house the expansion program. Numerous updates were completed, costing nearly $400,000.
SPIN is ready with qualified Pre-K teachers and teacher assistants and a fully renovated school building, but the children cannot come. The children cannot come because the Pennsylvania legislature and the governor have been unable to work together to pass an annual budget that will include funding the expansion of Pennsylvania’s Pre-K Counts program. SPIN’s is not the only program being held up. There are hundreds across the state that are unable to open due to the budget impasse.
SPIN is willing to start the program and be paid later, but without the legislature’s 2015-16 funding allocation, the School District of Philadelphia has no authorization to move forward with Pre-K expansion. At SPIN, the losers are 100 children aged 3 to 5, their parents, the teaching staff and the nonprofit organization as a whole. Across Pennsylvania, 14,000 to 20,000 young children are in danger of losing an entire year of preschool.
We’ve gone almost four months without a budget. It is time to pass an annual state budget so the children can come. It is time to pass a budget that addresses the critical importance of early childhood education in the future of Pennsylvania.
Kathleen Brown McHale is president and CEO of SPIN, Inc.