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Focusing on a variety of education, health and youth development issues of importance to children and families in Pennsylvania.

Kids Can't Vote, But You Can

Did you know April 21 is the last day you can register to vote in Pennsylvania’s May 20 primary election? As someone who cares deeply about our children’s future, this looming date should inspire you to ask everyone you know if they are registered. And if they aren’t, help them get registered.

Voter registration resources can be found at prekforpa.org/vote.

There is bipartisan consensus that high-quality pre-kindergarten is smart policy around the United States and here in Pennsylvania. Strong majorities of Pennsylvania’s Democrats, Republicans and independents favor ensuring every 3- and 4-year-old has access to high-quality pre-k, yet only 1 in 6 of Pennsylvania’s 3- and 4-year olds has access to a high-quality program.

So it’s up to you to give children a voice in Harrisburg. Make sure candidates for office know that you speak for kids - and that you vote.

Please help us spread the word by sharing this “Kids Can’t Vote” graphic on Facebook or Twitter. And if you haven’t already, please sign up as a supporter of the statewide “Pre-K for PA” campaign, which now has more than 2,500 supporting organizations and individuals.

Thanks for everything you do for Pennsylvania’s children.

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Throwback Thursday: Pre-k Edition

In social media circles, today is known as “Throwback Thursday” - or #tbt for short - a day to reminisce by posting old photos of yourself so friends and family can see what you looked like all those years ago.

This also happens to be the national “Week of the Young Child,” an annual celebration to focus public attention on the needs of young children and their families and to recognize the early childhood programs and services that meet those needs. It’s a great time to further elevate the public discussion about ways we can work together to better meet the educational needs of our youngest learners.

One of those ways, of course, is to provide greater access to high-quality pre-kindergarten programs across the commonwealth. Currently, only 1 in 6 of Pennsylvania’s 3- and 4-year-olds benefits from this once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity. That means nearly a quarter of a million children statewide are missing out on the opportunity high-quality pre-k provides in preparing them for success in school and beyond.

The urgent need to boost access to high-quality pre-k is why Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children helped launch the statewide Pre-K for PA campaign earlier this year. What started with 10 organizations in January has now grown to more than 2,200 supporting organizations and individuals from every part of the commonwealth. And that support is growing by the day.

So if you’re inclined to take part in “Throwback Thursday,” post a picture of yourself at the age of 3 or 4 with the hashtags #tbt and #IAmPreK and remind your online friends that young learners only get one chance to benefit from high-quality pre-k.

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High-Quality Pre-K Pays Off For All Of Us

High-quality pre-k has many proven benefits for children - benefits that go far beyond readiness for kindergarten and extend into lifelong savings to Pennsylvania’s taxpayers. In fact, research shows high-quality early learning programs can return as much as $17 in savings for every $1 invested over the long term.

The criminal justice system is one area where those savings can be seen. Nearly 70 percent of America’s state prison inmates fail to receive a high school diploma. Research shows high-quality pre-k jump starts the learning process for children, ensuring they enter school ready to learn and have a much better chance of completing high school - meaning they have a better chance of being productive members of society.

Unfortunately, only 1 in 6 of Pennsylvania’s 3- and 4-year-olds benefits from publicly funded, high-quality pre-k. The statewide Pre-K for PA campaign (of which Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children is a founding partner) is working to improve access to high-quality pre-k so it benefits more kids and can have broader long-term benefits for the entire commonwealth.

You can help this effort by joining the campaign.

The Pre-K for PA campaign already has more than 2,150 supporters statewide since its launch in late January. These supporters know that, as a commonwealth, we can invest now to help give our young learners a solid chance to succeed, or pay a lot more later for failing to do so.

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A Race We Cannot Afford to Lose

For our commonwealth and our country to be successful, we need to ensure all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential regardless of race, ethnicity or where they live. Given that children of color will be the majority of children by 2018 and the majority of the workforce by 2030, our future prosperity and global competitiveness hinge on the success of children of color.

That’s why the Annie E. Casey Foundation issued an important KIDS COUNT® policy report today. Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children compares how children are progressing on key milestones across racial and ethnic groups at the national and state level - data that can help Pennsylvania create policies and programs that benefit all children, and help identify areas where targeted strategies and investments are needed.

This is the first-ever national report that includes a state-level index of racial equity for different child racial categories. The index focuses on 12 milestones that children need to achieve from birth through young adulthood in order to become economically successful adults. The report finds the picture of racial equity in Pennsylvania is very similar to the national picture on several measures. In Pennsylvania, no one racial group has all children meeting the 12 milestones. This is also true of the national overview.

Boiled down, this means Pennsylvania and the nation have some work to do to get all kids on a path to success and ensure all children live in economically successful families, reside in supportive communities and meet developmental, health and educational milestones.

If we want to remain prosperous for generations to come, all children must have a fair chance to succeed. As the report notes: “We are truly in a race against time to deliver better results for our kids.”

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Spread the Word: #IamPreK

This past weekend, one of our partners in the statewide Pre-K for PA campaign - the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children (DVAEYC) - held its annual conference in Philadelphia. More than 1,000 early childhood professionals, including directors, teachers, administrators, therapists, doctors and consultants, took the opportunity to show their support for increasing access to high-quality pre-k in a clever way: They stood up during the plenary session and took “selfies” that they shared on social media using the hashtag #IamPreK.

This simple act helped push the Pre-K for PA message out to thousands more people across the commonwealth. Generating such awareness and support for Pre-K for PA is critical to our goal of ensuring that every 3- and 4-year-old in Pennsylvania will have access to a high-quality pre-k.

About 82 percent of Pennsylvania’s 3- and 4-year-olds do not have access to high-quality, publicly funded pre-k. That means nearly a quarter of a million young learners are missing out on the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity it provides in helping them prepare for success in kindergarten and beyond.

We hope you agree Pennsylvania can and should do more for these young learners – and we hope you’ll join the Pre-K for PA campaign if you haven’t already. And while you’re at it, take a moment to take a “selfie” and share it on social media with the #IamPreK hashtag.

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Ready to Read = Ready to Succeed

Teachers know better than any of us that a child’s ability to arrive at school ready to learn is a key indicator of that child’s success. And teachers know that a child who attends a high-quality pre-k program will be better prepared for success in kindergarten and beyond.

Research shows that students who attend high-quality pre-k are more likely to read at grade level by 3rd grade. And children who read well by 3rd grade are more likely to stay on track through the middle grades and have lower dropout rates, higher graduation rates and an overall better chance at success later in life.

Put simply, children who are ready to read are ready to learn. And high-quality pre-k helps children be ready to do both.

This is one of the many reasons Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children helped launch the “Pre-K for PA” campaign, a statewide effort that advocates for access to high-quality pre-k education for all of Pennsylvania’s 3- and 4-year-olds.

We’re hardly alone in this goal. Since the campaign launched less than two months ago with 10 founding organizations, it has grown to include more than 1,600 individuals and organizations.

If you haven’t already joined, please do by visiting www.prekforpa.org. And if you have joined, send this message to a colleague, friend, family member or even your child’s teacher and ask them to sign up to support “Pre-K for PA.”

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Charter School Changes Can Improve Learning Opportunities

This week, Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children testified at a hearing hosted by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale and state lawmakers about charter school reforms that PPC believes are necessary to improve educational opportunities for the commonwealth’s children. Nearly 120,000 children attend charter and cyber charter schools in the commonwealth, and PPC believes these children - as well as those attending traditional district-operated schools - deserve the opportunity to receive a high-quality public education that prepares them to transition to postsecondary education, the workforce or the military without the need for remediation.

To accomplish that goal, there are important reforms to the charter school law that need to be made in 2014. PPC’s testimony outlined three of the most important reforms that we believe policymakers should prioritize to ensure accountability and provide better charter school opportunities:

  1. Establish a fair state policy for charter and cyber charter school enrollments – All children deserve the opportunity to attend high-quality public schools, and charter schools play an important role in that opportunity. Unfortunately, children and families in some communities face unnecessary barriers in charter school enrollment and admission practices.
  2. Implement a common performance matrix for charter and cyber charter schools for annual oversight and renewal or revocation decisions – A performance matrix will provide charter school authorizers the information they need to oversee and evaluate charter school performance and make renewal and revocation decisions.
  3. Recognize and reward high-performing charter and cyber charter schools – high-performing charter schools should be rewarded with longer renewal periods than underperforming charters and should be able to expand or open new charters with an abbreviated approval process.

These common-sense changes to Pennsylvania’s charter school laws can help us ensure every child in our public education system benefits from a quality education, no matter what type of public school they attend.

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More Proof That Pre-k Pays Off

If you read Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children's recent report, A Smart Choice for a Solid Start: The Case for Pre-k in PA, you might recall seeing a list of other states that have been making strong investments in high-quality pre-kindergarten. One of them is Georgia, which started a universal pre-k program for 4-year-olds in 1995.

This week, new research came out showing just how much Georgia’s investments are paying off for kids: It found kindergartners who completed Georgia’s pre-k program significantly outperformed students who hadn’t benefitted from pre-k on seven of 10 school readiness skills.

The researchers who conducted the study said their findings “provide strong evidence that Georgia’s Pre‐K provides a beneficial experience for enhancing school readiness skills for all children – boys and girls, those from families of different income levels, and children with differing levels of English language proficiency.”

We’ve seen similar benefits from high-quality pre-k here in Pennsylvania, with 4-year-olds in publicly funded pre-k programs making dramatic gains in academic and social proficiency. Yet only 1 in 6 of the commonwealth’s 3- and 4-year-olds are able to access high-quality, publicly funded pre-k programs, leaving nearly a quarter of a million kids missing out on the once-in-a-lifetime benefits high-quality pre-k provides. Some of them live in your community.

To fix this, PPC joined with other organizations across the state to launch the “Pre-K for PA” campaign, with the vision of ensuring every 3- and 4-year-old in Pennsylvania has access to high-quality pre-k. We hope you’ll join us in this effort and ask others to do the same.

After all, if we know high-quality pre-k has such great benefits for our children and our commonwealth, we should be doing more to make sure it’s available to every family that wants it for their child.

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The Case for Pre-k in PA

Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children (PPC) today issued a new report showing only about 18 percent of Pennsylvania’s 3- and 4-year-olds - or 1 in 6 children - are able to access high-quality, publicly funded pre-kindergarten programs.

That means nearly a quarter of a million Pennsylvania children are missing out on the once-in-a-lifetime benefits high-quality pre-k provides. This lack of access not only means lost learning opportunities, it also results in additional long-term costs for Pennsylvania’s taxpayers. These issues can be addressed through stronger public investments in high-quality pre-k.

Our new report, A Smart Choice for a Solid Start: The Case for Pre-k in PA, details the proven benefits of high-quality pre-k for 3- and 4-year-olds, including stronger academic and social skills in kindergarten and later grades, reduced costs for special education services, and an increased likelihood of high school graduation and better employment opportunities. We’ve also gathered local data to show how many young learners lack access to high-quality pre-k in each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.

Pre-k has earned growing support among elected leaders from both major parties, business leaders, and military and law enforcement officials in Pennsylvania and across the country. And most Pennsylvania voters support increased funding for pre-k, even if it means increased taxes.

Yet despite this strong support, Pennsylvania’s investments in high-quality pre-k have not significantly increased in recent years, even as several other states are making or moving toward stronger investments. Most of Pennsylvania’s neighboring states – including Maryland, New Jersey, New York and West Virginia – have higher rates of pre-k participation among 4-year-olds, underscoring the need for Pennsylvania to do more.

That’s why PPC was among the founding organizations in the “Pre-K for PA” campaign that launched last month, and it’s why we hope you’ll join us in our goal of ensuring every 3- and 4-year-old in Pennsylvania has access to high-quality pre-k and enters kindergarten ready to learn and succeed.

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Strong Reading Skills Link to Lifelong Success

Children who are proficient readers by the end of third grade are more likely to graduate from high school and to be economically successful in adulthood. In order for our economy and our society to thrive, it is critical that all children become proficient in early reading regardless of their race, socio-economic level or where they live.

A new KIDS COUNT® data snapshot today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows Pennsylvania has some work to do in helping our children obtain the reading skills they need to succeed.

The data snapshot shows 60 percent of Pennsylvania’s 4th graders are below proficient in reading. Though it’s slightly better than the national average of 66 percent, it’s not near where we would want to be as a commonwealth.

It is modest progress from a decade earlier. In 2003, Pennsylvania had 67 percent of our 4th graders below proficient, while the national average was 70 percent below proficient.

Despite these improvements in early reading proficiency, we are still far from where we should be, especially given the current economic climate in which most family-sustaining jobs require at least a high school diploma.

We also are seeing low-income children faring worse when it comes to reading proficiency. In all, 77 percent of Pennsylvania’s low-income 4th graders were below proficient in reading in 2013, compared to 45 percent of students below proficient among higher income households.

This means there is a 32 percentage point gap between the 4th grade reading proficiency of higher-income and lower-income students in the commonwealth. A decade ago, the gap between lower- and higher-income students was 30 percentage points, so it is widening.

To help improve reading proficiency among all children, the KIDS COUNT data snapshot urges policymakers to “work together to develop a coherent system of early care and education that aligns, integrates and coordinates what children experience from birth through age 8.”

This point speaks to the need to bolster our early learning efforts, something we are working to do through the newly launched Pre-K for PA campaign, which has the vision of ensuring every 3- and 4-year-old in Pennsylvania has access to high-quality pre-k.

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