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Report: State Lags in Access to Pre-K Education

Low pay has led to shortage of child-care workers, teachers

By Danielle M. Smith - Public News Service
The Tube City Almanac
September 07, 2023
Posted in: State & Region

File photo: “Day 100 in Kindergarten” by Meriwether Lewis Elementary School, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic.

The Keystone State has some work to do to provide more access to quality pre-Kindergarten programs for the youngest Pennsylvanians.

Only 43 percent of eligible 3- and-4-year-olds are in high-quality, publicly funded pre-K, leaving more than 87,000 without access, according to a new report entitled, “State of Early Care and Education in Pennsylvania.”

Maggie Livelsberger, policy director for Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, said young children need access to programs preparing them to start Kindergarten. But she said inadequate funding for child care has led to issues of supply and demand, affecting a family's ability to find care they can afford.

“It also impacts child care providers, and their ability to be compensated fairly, to pay their teachers and maintain their business expenses,” Livelsberger said. “We are living in a world where there is a very historic workforce shortage within the child care system, and a lot of that is due to unlivable wages.”

Livelsberger added in the Keystone State, child care center workers earn on average less than $12.50 an hour, or less than $26,000 a year. The report recommended the state increase funding for the child care sector, and develop a pay system to put pre-K teachers on par with K-12 teachers with similar education levels.

Livelsberger acknowledged child care providers have benefited from supplemental stimulus funding the state received and there is some new money in the state budget for child care. But she said more is needed.

“Child care has historically been underfunded,” Livelsberger said. “Even though there are new funds for child care in this budget, it’s not nearly enough to be able to combat this workforce shortage that the sector is facing. And that’s really closing classrooms and not allowing families to access that care.”

The report recommended the state’s Office of Child Development and Early Learning produce a report every three years to give what it calls a “clear picture” of the early-childhood workforce and recommend ways to expand and improve it.

Danielle M. Smith is a producer for Public News Service, where this story first appeared. An award-winning radio journalist/personality with more than a decade of experience in broadcast media, she is a former audio journalist with American Urban Radio Networks and Sheridan Broadcasting Networks who also hosts a weekly community affairs show “Good News” on WGBN (1360 AM/98.9 FM).

Originally published September 07, 2023.

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