Pa. Business Leaders: We Need More Money for Pre-K

Businesses reckoning with an unskilled workforce want to start training future workers early. They're calling for $90m more in pre-K funding from the state.

Photo by Christopher Futcher/iStock

Photo by Christopher Futcher/iStock

While the soda tax battle finally ended on Monday when Mayor Jim Kenney signed the long-contested sugary drinks tax into law, local business leaders are saying more needs to be done.

They’re calling on the state to to pump an additional $90 million into funding for high-quality pre-K, the Philadelphia Business Journal reports.

Representatives from the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, the Main Line Chamber of Commerce, the African American Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. military say the investment would bridge the STEM workforce skills gap beginning in the formative pre-K years. The money would expand pre-K access for 7,400 more children and extend the school year for 6,200 students, CBS Philly reports.

To back this position up, the leaders have cited STEM and Early Childhood — When Skills Take Root, a report released on Friday by Mission:Readiness, an education advocacy organization run by retired military leaders and Washington D.C.-based education advocacy group, ReadyNation.

The report says that STEM (science, technology, education, and math) jobs, like those in healthcare and computer science will drive the economy, growing by as much as 20 to 37 percent nationwide, but in Pennsylvania, the pipeline to these professions is weak — nearly two-thirds of eighth graders aren’t proficient in math and science and more than a quarter of students moving into higher education in the state require remediation in math and English.

The report also highlighted recent findings from the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry that show that companies spend over $188 million per year on retraining employees and that 52 percent of employers face difficulty hiring people with adequate skills, training, and education.

“Our future’s success and our nation’s technological advantage depend upon the constant supply of highly trained, highly capable technical talent,” Jim Waddington, director of strategic marketing solutions at Lockheed Martin told the Business Journal.


The business community wants to start investments early, in Pre-K, and across the state. And while Kenney’s soda tax will pay for many more kids in Philadelphia to attend high-quality pre-K annually, the report underscores the fact that there are about 120,000 kids in the state overall who don’t have access to the state-funded pre-K programs like Pre-K for All or the federally-backed Head Start program.

The state has made some way with securing early education funding following a months-long budget impasse.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s early education funding proposal of $120 million over two years would enroll 14,000 kids in pre-K programs.