Governor Corbett recently announced a $9.8 million expansion of Pre-K Counts, spread over 27 counties. As the Department of Education was considering where that money would go, its Office of Child Development and Early Learning released a report outlining ten counties where children are at the most risk and could most benefit from expanded funding. Think that’s where they directed the funds? Think again. And yet again it is Philadelphia that gets shortchanged.
The Department of Education report sorts counties into four risk levels, from low-risk to high-risk. Emphasizing the need to direct funding to high risk counties like Philadelphia, the report states that the “way to help children reach their potential and succeed is through quality early care and education. Such opportunities are especially important for children affected by conditions that place them at risk for not meeting the minimum academic standards and failing in school.” So it is pretty clear where the money should go. “Research consistently shows that children at risk of school failure benefit from quality early learning opportunities, with economic and educational benefits that extend to our families, communities, and the state.” But PCCY’s analysis found that less than a quarter of the new money is going to help children in high-risk counties. What’s even worse, the highest risk counties received less than $800,000 more than four counties the state views as low risk.
Were the funding doled out on need, PCCY found that Philadelphia would receive about 60%, or $6 million. Instead, Philadelphia saw less than $1.7 million, with just $628,800 going to the School District of Philadelphia. Here’s where it gets worse: traditionally, the School District has held the sole Pre-K Counts grant and subcontracted with nearly 50 community partner sites. Since only four other groups in the city were awarded any additional funding at all, most of the city’s providers will not be able to count on any new money.
The Department of Education fails to explain not only why it capped institutions for applying for funding for more than 80 seats, but also how it chose to award the funding where it did. If the Department of Education were serious about providing quality early care and education for children most at risk, it would have done exactly that. It seemingly ignored its own report, and chose to spread the funding across the state with little thought toward need. Urban school districts struggling to stay above water could have used a tremendous amount more funding for Pre-K; instead they were arbitrarily capped at 80 seats so the state could spread the money further. In the warped view of Harrisburg, the money did go to those who needed it most: the many state legislators up for reelection in less than four weeks who now have one last victory to point to before election day.