Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Pediatricians Rally for Access to Pre-K

Andrea Sears, Public News Service

About 120,000 children from low-income families in Pennsylvania have no publicly funded pre-K. (Chris Morgan/
About 120,000 children from low-income families in Pennsylvania have no publicly funded pre-K. (Chris Morgan/
HARRISBURG, Pa. - Pediatric hospital residents rallied in Harrisburg this week, asking Gov. Tom Wolf and state legislators to invest more in high-quality pre-kindergarten education.

According to a new report from the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, quality pre-K programs help promote a child's healthy cognitive, social and emotional development. According to Suzanne Yunghans, executive director of the chapter, the pre-K years are crucial to healthy child development.

"That's when the child's brain is developing," she said. "That's when neurons are connecting. That's when children have the most opportunity to really take advantage of a rich educational environment."

The pediatricians are calling for an increase of $90 million in state spending on pre-KI education in the budget for the fiscal year that beginsJuly 1, giving an additional 7,400 3- and 4-year-olds access to pre-K programs.

The report said the stress of poverty actually can alter a young child's brain, undermining his or her ability to learn, think and interact with others. But Yunghans said nearly 70 percent, or about 120,000, of the children in low-income households in the state lack access to publicly funded, high quality pre-K.

"Providing pre-K opportunities for those children gives them a leg up," she said, "so that they're ready to learn when they hit kindergarten with their peers."

Pre-K programs also have been shown to promote better health in children and to lower rates of smoking, substance abuse, diabetes and heart disease throughout their lives.

As Yunghans noted, investing in children literally is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"Every child that doesn't have this opportunity now will never be able to recapture those preschool years," she said. "So by not funding it now, we've missed investing in these children in the future."

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