Study: Pa. Gets D+ for Pre-School Education

The state ranks 41st in the nation for access to a variety of programs.

Earlier this week, Philly Mag told the story of cutthroat competition among Philly parents to get young children into top-notch preschools. A new report from a national foundation suggests one reason why that’s the case — Pennsylvania lags behind the national average in nearly every measure of access to pre-K education. And the gap between the haves and the have-nots is, unsurprisingly getting wider.

The Quality Counts 2015 report from Education Weekly measured the states on a variety of criteria. Pennsylvania lagged behind most U.S. states in most of them:

• Overall, Pennsylvania’s rate of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool was almost exactly the same as the national rate —47.5 percent locally, compared to 47.3 percent nationally. But that number actually represented a 0.6 percent decrease in enrollment between 2008 and 2013.

• There’s a 19.9 percent gap between the enrollment rate of “non-poor” children and poor children in the state — a gap that exceeds the 15.8 percent gap nationally. Troublingly: Pennsylvania’s gap widened by 5.3 percent during the study period, compared to less than 1 percent nationally.

• Pennsylvania also had a smaller percent of children enrolled in full-day pre-K, kindergarten, and full-day kindergarten than the national average.

• The one place the state did better than the national average: Enrollment in Head Start. More than 47 percent of Pennsylvania 3- and 4-year-olds in poverty attended the program — compared to just under 36 percent nationally.

The magazine gave Pennsylvania a “D+” grade for its efforts — nine states ranked lower.

Third and State, a policy blog operated by the Keystone Research Center and the Pennsylvania Budget & Policy Center, said the report reflects the flat funding of pre-K efforts  by state government during the Tom Corbett years.

“Education advocates blame state government policies that do not make it a priority to provide equal opportunities for low-income children to attend preschool.  While other states have increased their preschool education funding, Pennsylvania’s preschool funding has remained flat, causing its youngest students to fall behind,” Waslala Miranda wrote at the blog. “Whether Pennsylvania earns a better grade next year will be determined by what Gov.-Elect Wolf and the legislature do about preschool education funding.”