This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The mayor’s commission on universal pre-kindergarten released a draft report that cites a $60 million annual price tag and makes it clear that unprecedented public and private cooperation will be necessary to reach a goal of providing a high-quality experience to all eligible students.
The 17-member commission, comprised of educators, early childhood education experts, and city officials, was tasked with drafting a plan for high-quality universal pre-kindergarten in Philadelphia.
The draft report comes after months of digging into scientific research on child development and the effects of high-quality early education. The commission, approved by voters last spring, studied similar pre-K expansion efforts across the country and spoke with parents, child-care workers, and community members.
“We envision a Philadelphia where all 3- and 4-year-olds have access to quality, affordable, and accessible Pre-K opportunities, which are sustainably funded and allow each student to become a lifelong learner and contributing citizen,” the report said.
Out of 42,500 preschool-aged children in Philadelphia, it is estimated that only one out of three has access to high-quality, publicly funded pre-K, according to the report.
One of the benefits of good early childhood education, the report found, is return on investment. For every dollar invested in high-quality child care, the need for services like special education and remediation is reduced by $4 to $16.
Expanding high-quality pre-K can also help close the achievement gap, particularly for poor families. Children enrolled in good pre-K programs are more ready to enter kindergarten, are less likely to be deemed at-risk, and have better life outcomes than their peers who are not.
“We believe expanding pre-K is more than feasible,” said Otis Hackney, the mayor’s chief education officer, through a spokeswoman. But it will require work, he said, to maximize existing state and federal funding sources and to better coordinate current resources.
“The Kenney administration is working diligently with City Council, philanthropists, the corporate community and the finance department to align our policy priorities to resources,” Hackney said.
But “ultimately, moving towards quality pre-K for all children will involve the addition of local city investments,” he said.
The report calls for a $180 million investment over three years. In order to boost access to affordable pre-K, the commission made a number of recommendations and is currently evaluating three proposed funding models.
The recommendations address how to deliver high-quality child care, which populations to target, how to determine areas of priority, quality standards, time in classroom, professional development, curriculum, governance structure, and evaluation of providers.
The umbrella recommendations are:
- Create a pre-K system that is available to all 3- and 4-year-olds in Philadelphia.
- Assure that all Philadelphia pre-K programs are high-quality programs.
- Improve quality by increasing participation in the Keystone STARS rating program.
The commission recommends that the city give priority to children most likely to be academically and socially unprepared for kindergarten (children who have special needs or low income, English Language learners, homeless children, and children of immigrants).
High-quality programs follow rigorous standards, are monitored by outside observers, and report on child outcomes. The commission recommends that pre-K be delivered in Keystone STAR 3 and 4 facilities and facilities rated “STAR 3 Ready.”
Many child-care providers struggle to reach STAR 3 and 4 ratings, because of the cost of attaining high quality with little financial returns. The commission recommends that the city develop an outreach plan to help providers gain access to supports that will move them to high-quality status.
The commission reported three funding models for investing in high-quality pre-K. Each model assumes a yearly recurring revenue of $60 million over three years, a total of $180 million through fiscal year 2019.
- Philadelphia Pre-K Supplemental. Under this model, the city would create and fund “Pre-K Supplemental Slots.” The cost of each slot would match the current Pre-K Counts per-child rate of $8,500. The city would choose providers and focus on certain zip codes to expand quality access. Under this model, there would be about 25,000 high-quality slots in Philadelphia in FY19, almost 10,000 more than what exists in FY16.
- Quality Supplement: This model would allow the city to provide a supplement of $5,000 for each existing high-quality slot. Providers and families can combine up to two funding sources. Under this model the total number of high-quality slots could grow to 19,689.
- A hybrid of Philadelphia Pre-K Supplemental and Quality Supplement: A combination of these two models would fund additional high-quality slots and provide supplemental funding to help providers fill the gap between the cost of care per child and existing funding.
The commission also identified some next steps for the city to consider as it expands access for all 3- and 4-year-olds.
- The city needs to maximize the potential of the existing early childhood workforce by helping teachers navigate the process of getting degrees and certifications, and by supporting providers with pre-service and in-service training, technical assistance, and classroom coaching.
- The commission also recommends that the city explore various models of governance that include public and private partnerships and stronger coordination among the city, School District, and the state to manage the distribution of funds to pre-K providers. This would lessen the burden that providers face in combining and collecting funds.
- Lastly, for children to experience the best outcomes, the pre-K program must successfully transition children to kindergarten, making sure the children’s experiences are aligned to what will be expected of them. The commission suggests that the city develop an approach that involves providers, families, and the community to look at curriculum, instruction, and supportive services.
Over the next few weeks, the commission will continue to gather feedback from stakeholders and will release a final report inclusive of feedback in April. The public is welcome to submit comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.