Last year, during his state of the union speech, President Obama called for a universal pre-K for the country, and repeated the call in this year's address.
Despite Corbett's claim that Pennsylvania leads the country in early learning, the less good news is that the state has a track record that is spotty, at best. The state had no pre-K program until 2004, when Gov. Rendell fought the Legislature for $75 million to launch a state program and $25 million for all-day kindergarten. In 2009, 11,843 kids were enrolled in the state's pre-K Counts. By 2012, 11,268 kids were enrolled, according to a report by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. A year ago, that same organization found that Pennsylvania was losing ground in providing access to pre-K.
So, Corbett's $10 million increase should be welcome news to parents around the state, although the total number of seats available is still a small fraction of the state's children.
While Corbett trumpets his commitment to early education, advocates like Public Citizens for Children and Youth point out that the state still falls far short of providing adequate funding for preschool programs. State funding for programs that include child-care subsidies, pre-K counts and Head Start is nearly $60 million less that it was three years ago. Federal budget cuts, especially to Head Start, haven't helped, either. This hits Philadelphia particularly hard, with its high percentage of low-income children. The school district lost 300 pre-K seats in one year.
Corbett's increase in pre-K money is expected to come on top of increases that he'll be making to the state education budget that could range from $100-200 million. That's especially good news; in 2011, Corbett cut education by $1 billion, a level that was driven by the expiration of federal and state stimulus dollars. For districts like Philadelphia's, which has struggled with closings, layoffs and deep deficits, that should also be welcome news.
"More money for schools" is a good thing to be able to report. But, while increases will make life a little easier, don't mistake it for full-throated commitment to education. That we're still waiting to see. The governor's commitment to "no taxes" has been clear; his education policies still leave much to be desired. Potential voters have let the governor know that they are unhappy with his education-funding track record; we're heartened that he's finally listening.