The cost of high quality

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

The benefits of high-quality pre-K can be great, but relatively few Pennsylvania children receive it. In 2013-14, less than half of 3- and 4-year-olds statewide attended licensed programs. Only about 31 percent were in high-quality pre-K.

One big reason: expense. The average annual cost to provide a Star-3 or Star-4 program in Southeastern Pennsylvania is $12,789 per child, more than $2,000 more than for a Star-1 or Star-2 program, the Nonprofit Finance Fund reported. Higher teacher salaries and higher facility and classroom materials costs were mainly responsible. Without public funding, the report concluded, “high-quality care is … especially unattainable for families living in poverty.”

Gov. Wolf’s administration wants to more than double 2015-16 state funding for Pre-K Counts, a high-quality program for low- to moderate-income families, and to increase state Head Start funding by 50 percent. The state legislature passed a June budget with much smaller increases; Wolf vetoed it. That standoff continues.

Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children is calling for the legislature to substantially increase pre-K funding for the next several years, said spokesman Michael Race. “Quality comes with a price, and high-quality pre-K is no exception. … It will save money in the long run.”