In Philadelphia, the mayor and a local funder are teaming up to expand pre-K. And like other cities around the nation, Philadelphia isn’t waiting for state or federal leadership.
Drawing on a report from Philly.com, a local news site, Next City, a nonprofit that reports on urban policy, says, “Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney’s dream of universal pre-K got a $15 million boost this week in the form of a one-time grant by the William Penn Foundation… While campaigning last year, Kenney, who took office in January, promised to make citywide pre-K a cornerstone of his administration.”
Next City adds, “Only a third of the city’s 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in high-quality, publicly funded pre-kindergarten. A commission on the subject reported last month that such a program will cost about $60 million per year, and recommended that a mixture of public and private funding be used to foot the bill.”
Philly.com adds, “The announcement marks the first major philanthropic investment in pre-K since Mayor Kenney announced his goal to make such care accessible to all city 3- and 4-year-olds.”
“The grant is projected to create space for 1,500 preschoolers in quality centers by 2021. Kenney’s goal is 10,000 new quality seats in Philadelphia over the next five years.”
In a press release, Mayor Kenney says, “My Administration is committed to increasing quality pre-K opportunities, but we certainly cannot do it alone. Business and philanthropic participation is critical to the success of this effort, so I’m extremely grateful for William Penn Foundation’s ongoing leadership and investment in early childhood education.”
A ballot question in Allentown?
Generous philanthropic gifts are one vital way to support pre-K, but cities are also experimenting with other funding approaches.
In Allentown, Penn., Mayor Ed Pawlowski wants to see voters weigh in on a ballot question.
According to the Morning Call, “Allentown voters may be asked to fund universal pre-Kindergarten and a long-awaited scholarship program for all city students if a ballot question from Mayor Ed Pawlowski makes it on the ballot this fall.”
Pawlowski announced these plans “at the annual mayor’s breakfast hosted by the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce for a ballot question that would ask taxpayers if they want to ante up 30 cents per day or $109.50 annually to pay for the two initiatives.”
Those initiatives: two years of free community college and universal preschool.
A Tale of Two Cities in Texas
Launched by former Mayor Julián Castro, San Antonio’s tax-funded pre-K program is thriving.
This week a report from public radio station KSTX pointed to key components of the city’s Pre-K 4 SA program, explaining that specially trained teachers improve program quality and that having a full-day program is crucial for parents who work full time.
“The program also gets high marks from Libby Doggett, deputy assistant secretary for policy and learning at the U.S. Department of Education. She praised San Antonio for using sales tax money to do this,” KSTX says.
Adding a nod to Beantown, Doggett tells the station, “I would say that Boston is right there with San Antonio in terms of offering the mentoring and the coaching, high quality curriculum, the family engagement, hands-on play based learning. Those are all a part of what we see expanding. It certainly is in San Antonio and other cities as well.”
However KSTX adds: “Despite all the accolades there are still some critics who don’t believe the program is worth the extra tax money – about $7.81 a year per household.”
“Voters will decide in 2020 whether to keep the program and the extra sales tax that supports it.”
Unfortunately, pre-K programs are threatened some 300 miles north of San Antonio in Snyder, Tex. Officials at Snyder Independent School District (ISD) are preparing to cut pre-K classes in half, according to ABC television station KTXS, because of budget cuts.
“The district will save up to $300,000 by cutting the Pre-K day short by a few hours,” KTXS reports.
“Snyder ISD is coming up short because of the big decline in oil prices.”
Jim Kirkland, Snyder’s superintendent, tells the station, “I hope parents will understand because Snyder ISD [is] only funded for half a day of Pre-K, that’s what the state funds.”
He adds, “To have a full day of Pre-K is on us, in other words we have to provide the funding for that.”
Back in 2006, NIEER (the National Institute for Early Education Research) summed up cities’ potential this way:
“Welding together coalitions to push through preschool education for all is sometimes easier at the city level than the state level.”
NIEER also quoted Libby Doggett, who was at that time the executive director of Pre-K Now.
“Good leaders don’t wait around” Doggett said. “They see a need and they get moving on it. They’re not waiting for the federal [or state] government to put police on the streets or give more money for schools.”
So keep your eye on cities. They’re making vital progress that state and federal government leaders can learn from.