How Expanding Pre-K Helps Every Philadelphian

When I was growing up in South Philadelphia, it was understood that the neighborhood should function as one large extended family. Adults helped to look after one another's’ children, teenagers were sent to shovel the sidewalks of the elderly, and we all came together in difficult times. For many communities in our city, those days are long gone, but that doesn’t mean our working families no longer need that network of support. 

Philadelphia is home to about 39,000 children age three to four years old, over half of whom live in a single parent household and a quarter of whom do not speak English at home. One of the most important things the City can to do support these families — and to make all of Philadelphia thrive — is to ensure that their children have access to quality pre-K. 

Many of our children already have quality care. However, child care is a source of stress for nearly all parents, even those in the best of circumstances. It is financially draining, and it can place a strain on familial and professional relationships. Too often, childcare facilities do little to advance a child’s development, wasting very opportune years of development. This wasted opportunity leads to higher costs down the road. Too many working parents are forced into an impossible choice between their child’s affordable, immediate care and the employment that supports their family. By expanding access to quality pre-K, we give our city’s working families a safe, educational space to take their children while they are at work.  

The benefits to the child both are innumerable in the short and long term. Students who attend quality pre-K are typically "nine months ahead of their peers in reading, seven months ahead in writing, and five months ahead in math.”* They are less likely to require special education services in grade school, and far more likely to graduate high school. Importantly, they are also far less likely to end up in the criminal justice system — all of which makes Philadelphia a better place for those children and the rest of our city’s residents to live. 

Universal access to pre-K also provides a net benefit to the city’s economy. Studies have indicated that for every dollar invested in pre-K, the City will see a return of $1.79 in additional economic benefit. If elected mayor, I plan to invest $40 million into expanding pre-K access over three years. With the help of $20 million in additional investment from non-profits, community groups and the local business community, every four year old in Philadelphia will have access to high-quality pre-K by the end of my first term. 

To make that goal a reality, we will start by focusing on those children most in need. Currently, there are approximately 10,000 four year olds in Philadelphia in need of quality pre-K, and the Childcare Map developed by The Reinvestment Fund shows that much of this need is found in areas with very few quality pre-K providers. We will work with the School District to grow the number of available seats in their programs. We will also work with community-based providers to find space so that they can take in more children. Additionally, we will review city-owned buildings and recreation facilities to ensure appropriate space in neighborhoods of need are being utilized for pre-K and after school facilities, which will enhance student experience and achievement.  

We also have to expand Philadelphia’s early education workforce. If elected, I will work with our local universities to offer scholarship opportunities to students looking for a career in early education who promise to work in Philadelphia’s pre-K program. Currently, the Community College of Philadelphia offers a two-year program in early childhood education. I’d like to partner this program with larger universities like Temple or LaSalle so that Community College students interested in early childhood education can earn four-year degrees. This will expand educational opportunities for local residents, and provide an incentive for top students from local colleges to stay in the area after graduating, while also boosting the quality of our pre-K programs.   

Expanding pre-K addresses a number of the issues confronting our city. It creates middle class jobs, provides reliable child care, keeps talented college graduates in the city, and increases our children’s odds of staying in school and out of trouble. As a result, its effects touch nearly every Philadelphian. Whether you’re a millennial, a police officer, a business owner, or a single mother, the access our children have to early education impacts you. By creating that sense of community, pre-K can become the neighborhoods of yesterday: it can become a family. 

Jim Kenney is the Democratic candidate for Mayor of Philadelphia. 

*Preschool to Prosperity: Pathway to Economic Success Starts Before Kindergarten 

Categories: MK Memo