Pennsylvania’s efforts to prepare our youngest learners for a lifetime of academic achievement and success have slowed and, in some areas, stagnated, according to the latest annual School Readiness report from Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.
“There are troubling signs that our deferred investments in young Pennsylvanians are starting to impact their long-term opportunities to learn and achieve,” said PPC President and CEO Joan Benso. “Unlike some investments, which can be put off until the economy rebounds, we only get one chance to build a solid foundation for each child’s future – and each child helps dictate the future of our commonwealth.”
The 2012 School Readiness report details how well Pennsylvania is doing preparing its youngest children for school by gauging progress on several child well-being indicators, including accessibility to quality early learning resources and medical care.
For the first time ever, this year’s School Readiness report includes county-specific data tables, enabling Pennsylvanians to have a snapshot of local measures and see how their region compares to other parts of the commonwealth.
This year’s report found the commonwealth as a whole has made no significant progress during the past year in several key areas that affect young children and their families, including:
- Children living in low-income families – About 2 in 5 Pennsylvania children ages 0-4 continue to live in low-income households, making them more likely to face nutrition and health problems and less likely to succeed in school.
- Access to health insurance – About 1 in 20 children ages 0-4 lack health insurance, which can lead to a lack of treatment or delayed treatment for a range of physical and behavioral health issues. Uninsured children also are more likely to miss school and struggle academically.
- Access to child care subsidy – The number of state-subsidized child care slots available to infants, toddlers and preschool children has remained flat, at fewer than 42,000. For many low-income families, child care subsidy is a critical means for working parents to obtain high-quality child care so they can hold down jobs.
The lack of progress in these areas is compounded by other, more troubling signs, including a sharp decline in the number of young children who receive health insurance coverage through Pennsylvania’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Medicaid. Both programs are critical to ensuring children have the access to physical and behavioral health care resources they need to thrive in their earliest years.
“The number of Pennsylvania children ages 4 and under who are covered by CHIP or Medicaid fell by more than 40,000 in just a year,” Benso said. “Such a large drop is alarming, especially given Pennsylvania’s longstanding reputation as a national leader in covering all kids.”
Pennsylvania also saw the number of children enrolled in publicly funded, high-quality pre-kindergarten programs drop by more than 3,200 in the past year, despite the proven, cost-saving benefits of programs like Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts and Head Start. The percentage of Pennsylvania 3- and 4-year-olds benefitting from publicly funded pre-k is at its lowest since 2007.
There are some hopeful signs in the School Readiness report, including an increase in the number of children served through Pennsylvania’s early intervention services and high-quality child care. Both help improve school readiness, and high-quality child care in particular has been shown to have a strong return on investment for Pennsylvania taxpayers.
“From pre-k investments to child care subsidies to health insurance, we know what works to help our youngest learners get off to a good start,” Benso said. “The challenge facing our state leaders is to make these areas a priority in the commonwealth’s budget. We can invest in our kids now – or pay much more later.”
For more information on the 2012 School Readiness report and to see county-specific data tables, visit PPC’s website at papartnerships.org/sr2012.