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Wolf and advocates push for big ticket high-quality preschool in Pa.

Photo: Laura Benshoff/WHYY

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Early childhood advocates are asking families across Pennsylvania to scrounge through their couch cushions on behalf of high-quality preschool programs.

Advocates hope that Pennies 4 Pre-K, a new initiative by advocacy group Pre-K for PA, will draw attention to a much larger pot of funding that could be headed their way: $120 million in Gov. Wolf’s proposed education budget.

Appearing at the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children (DVAEYC) this week, Wolf promoted his budget as a long-term investment.

"Children who participate in high-quality preschool education perform better in school. They graduate in higher rates," said Wolf. "If all those things happen, our society works better and so does our economy."

As the crowd of educators dropped pennies into colorful plastic buckets, Wolf anticipated some of the criticism already brewing in the legislature against his expansive education budget.

"We’re taking precious, scarce public dollars and we’re looking for priorities that are going to make our commonwealth better," said Wolf.

Wolf’s budget calls for an additional 14,000 new, high-quality pre-kindergarten seats through the Head Start and Pre-K Counts programs for this fall. The $120 million to fund these seats is a "down payment," increasing enrollment in state-funded programs by 75 percent. Only 7.5 percent of Pennsylvania children under 5 are currently enrolled in a high-quality preschool, and tuition for these programs can run over $10,000 a year without government subsidy.

The executive director of DVAEYC, Sharon Easterling, said the pennies were symbolic.

"We hope to be able to raise enough money to fund a couple of slots. We want the legislature to do the rest," she said.

Wolf faces an uphill battle in getting his ambitious education budget proposal through a legislature controlled by Republicans, many of whom have criticized his spending.

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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