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The Pre-K for PA Campaign

The grass roots movement for accessible, high-quality preschool for all Pennsylvania kids

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When Tonja Claxton’s daughter started Kindergarten this past school year, she was well prepared. After attending a state-funded preK program for two years, school was nothing new.

“I’m thankful that my child was exposed to an amazing curriculum in pre-Kindergarten,” says the Philadelphia mom, who says she could not have afforded preschool without financial assistance. “As a low-income parent and single mother, I knew that early childhood education was important, and I noticed a difference between my child’s development with a supportive system and without.”

Because Claxton believes that every child, regardless of family income, should have that same advantage, she now advocates for early childhood education as a volunteer for Pre-K for PA.

Universal vision: High-quality pre-K for all

Pre-K for PA, a coalition backed and led by experts from 10 major statewide and regional educational organizations (see “Who’s Behind Pre-K for PA”), began in January as a way to use the 2014 election season to promote its mission of expanded access to high-quality preschool. The group will not endorse specific candidates; instead, it hopes to spread word of its vision through grass roots tactics. Its ultimate goal is to ensure that every 3- and 4-year-old in the state is able to enroll in a preK program of substance — one that entails a strong curriculum taught in a safe environment by highly trained teachers.

In Pennsylvania, 70 percent of preschool-aged kids currently do not have access to high-quality preschool, states Pre-K for PA field director Anne Gemmell. This is often because many families earn too much to qualify for state- or federally funded programs but too little to afford the expense on their own. Reducing that statistic, Gemmell notes, would give students a higher chance of future success.

Once kids reach elementary school age, “You’ve got increasing pressure on students to reach certain benchmarks, and there’s a lot of debate around the Common Core and increased standards, but there’s not enough substantive conversation about investing in those important early years,” Gemmell says.

Next page: how to get involved at the grass roots

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