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Pre-K for All Kids:

J.Smith/El Hispano

Philadelphia –   As a result of what was described as “unsettled” family circumstances, Sonya Claxton was in a situation that many Latina mothers find themselves: needing to quickly find an early childhood care center for her daughter Layla.

  When Sonya went to pick up her daughter at the first West Philadelphia day care center with an opening, she recalled having to step over needles and broken glass. “When I got there I would cringe when I saw all the children gazing at the television and the teacher yelling at the top of her lungs.”

  “It was painful but we endured it,” she said.

 Having educated herself on the high quality Pre-kindergarten programs available in the region through “Keystone Stars,” an early childhood initiative of the Office of Child Development and Early Learning, Claxton put her name on a waiting list for the Parent Infant Center (PIC) in West Philadelphia, one of the early childhood  education institution – founded by the University of Penn in 1978-  that was recognized for its quality and research-based child care.

   “When we received the letter from PIC that there was a spot for Layla in the program, I cried.”

   Although Layla initially was “withdrawn,” Sonya Claxton began to notice a subtle transformation. Several of Layla’s drawings appeared in the PIC newsletter, and then she saw her “petting” animals and “playing” in the school’s large garden with other children.

  “She was back to the normal 3-year-old,” Claxton said. “And she was getting the support she needed to successfully transition from Pre-K to kindergarten.The high-quality Pre-k program at PIC had given Layla a fighting chance. And she is reading at grade level.”

   In introducing Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) the Exec. Director of PIC, Debbie Green boasted of PIC’s “quality experiences” and diversity. “We don’t have to teach our children diversity,” said Ms. Green. “Each and every day when they come in to our program they are living diversity.”     

    Upon entering the bustling Locust Street Parent Infant Center,  Monday, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said, “This place is alive.”  The Senator then noted he was accustomed to hearing “crying” children, alluding dryly to Congress. The comment drew laughter from an audience that included West Philadelphia Rep.Jim  Roebuck (D-188); Debbie Green, Exec. Director of PIC; Democratic City Commissioner Carol Jenkins, PIC Coordinator Tamara Clark and Bonnie Squires Pres. of Squires Consulting.

  In unveiling a series of proposals aimed at addressing the need for quality early childhood education for all children, Sen. Casey said the principal bill, “Prepare All Kids Act,”  is designed to ensure that all children have “high-quality” early childhood education.

  “If we want to grow our economy and compete in a global economy, we have to invest in children at the dawn of their life,” said Sen. Casey, who said they were awaiting estimated costs of the program.

   “We all know this is not an opinion but a fact.  If kids learn more now, they will earn more later,” he added. ‘That’s not just a rhyme, it’s the truth. And all the data, all the studies show it.”

  “We are not investing  enough as a nation in early child care and learning and that has to end. We have to figure out a way to to get the consensus to invest in early learning.”

  Noting that the cost of early child care has gone up roughly 70% in the last three decades, according to Pew Research, Sen Casey is also called for a boost (up to $6,000) in the annual child care tax credit.  “Child care is more costly than ever and parents have less and less resources to deal with it.”

  The bill’s provisions include requirements for pre-kindergarten programs to rely on research-base curriculum and trained teachers with baccalaureate degrees, as found at PIC. In addition,  it provides federal matching funds to states who “voluntarily” participate in a program that is aimed at helping children from families with incomes under 200% of the federal poverty level.

  According to the Center for Public Education, educators are increasingly discovering that reform efforts in k-12 education systems are sometimes “too little  and too late.”

  “By the time some children reached kindergarten, they are already far behind their peers in skills and measures of school readiness.’

   An international study of 15 year-olds from 14 developed countries found that students who attended a year or more of pre-primary education scored an average of 33 percent higher on comprehensive reading assessments. Moreover, the National Childhood Education Service, in a recent study, found that, Latino children are “less likely” than other children to be enrolled in “quality center-based” early childhood programs.

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