Washington DC- Today, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) unveiled the Senate’s new comprehensive approach to universal Pre-K. Senator Casey first introduced universal Pre-K in 2007. In his last State of the Union Address, President Obama endorsed universal Pre-K and called on Congress to take action. Now Senate leaders on education have come together on a comprehensive approach that would help Pennsylvania children access early learning.
“One of the most important steps we can take for our economy and our children is to invest in early education,” Casey said. “Having access to pre-K will better prepare our children in an increasingly competitive global economy. Every child deserves a chance to develop their talents, and pre-K is essential to doing that.”
The bill, the Strong Start for America’s Children Act, focuses on four key goals: boosting funding for high-quality preschool programs serving low- and moderate-income families; increasing the quality of infant and toddler care offered by providers; supporting broad-scale quality improvements to child care programs; and encouraging continued support for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program.
The early childhood education proposal is a 10-year initiative to expand and improve early learning opportunities for children across the birth to age 5 continuum. The bill would fund preschool for 4-year old children from families earning below 200% of the federal poverty level, and encourage states to spend their own funds to support preschool for young children with family incomes above that income level. The legislation would establish a new federal-state partnership with formula funding for 4-year old preschool, with a state match, to all eligible states, based on each state’s proportion of 4-year olds under 200% of the federal poverty level. States would provide sub-grants to high-quality, local providers, including school districts and community-based providers, such as child care and Head Start programs. The bill also authorizes a new Early Head Start partnership with child care to improve the quality of care for infants and toddlers.
Early Learning in Pennsylvania
(courtesy of PA Partnerships for Children and the PA Pre-K Counts website)
- In 2012, there were 303,555 Pennsylvania children under the age of 5 living in low-income families.
- In 2011-2012, there were 48,907 children enrolled in publicly-funded pre-K; this is only 16.5 percent of Pennsylvania’s 3- and 4-year olds. Publicly-funded pre-K includes the state pre-K program, public school pre-K and Head Start.
- This includes 12.6 percent of 3-year olds and 20.3 percent of 4-year olds.
- Pre-K Counts, the state pre-K program, serves children up to 300% of the federal poverty level or who have other risk factors such as having special needs or learning English as a second language.
- In 2011-2012, Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts served 11,380 children in 62 counties, approximately 4 percent of preschool-aged children in the state. This is a little less than 25 percent of all pre-K students served by a publicly-funded program.
- PA Partnerships estimates that 2.4% of 3-year olds and 5.2% of 4-year olds were served by Pre-K Counts.