Increased Funding Needed to Continue Supporting Early Childhood Education

(July 1, 2024)

This Bold Voices blog post was written by one of Allies for Children’s partners about a subject that is relevant to their work as well as ours.
Today’s blog was written by:
Dr. Wendy Smith, Director of Early Childhood, Family & Community Services at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU)

Early childhood is the fastest period of brain development. Participation in high quality early childhood programs leads to adults who are more likely to have better health, higher educational attainment, and who generally contribute positively to society compared to children from high poverty homes who do not get such experiences (Children’s Learning and Development Benefits from High-Quality Early Care and Education: A Summary of the Evidence | The Administration for Children and Families ( Thankfully, Pennsylvania understands this fact and has been investing in three primary services to support early childhood for over two decades:

  • Pre-K Counts – a state-designed pre-kindergarten program for 3 – 5-year-olds serving families under 300% of federal poverty guidelines
  • Head Start State Supplemental Assistance Program (HSSAP) – state-funded slots for children to expand access to the federal Head Start program, which serves families under 100% of federal poverty guidelines
  • State-funded family centers and home visiting programs – programs that use evidence-based curricula to support parents as their children’s first teachers. This programming enhances the development of children from birth to five years who are located in high poverty communities.

However, in recent years these programs have been hampered by flat funding. For instance, HSSAP has been flat funded for four of the past seven years, and Pre-K Counts has been flat funded for five of the past seven years. In comparison, the federal government has consistently increased funding for Head Start for the past seven years. The Commonwealth must catch up.

When early childhood programs do not receive regular increases in funding, students and families lose out. Programs must make the hard choice between trying to provide minimal cost-of-living adjustments to retain high quality staff vs. investing in materials, equipment, and supplies to assure high quality instruction can be provided. At the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, we must pay for things like rent, custodial services, and repairs – things that, along with materials and supplies, have been on a significant upward trajectory over the past few years. Our Pre-K Counts classrooms have older equipment and fewer supplies compared to our federal Head Start classrooms, and without an increase in this year’s state budget for Pre-K Counts, we will be struggling to pay rent, unable to provide salary adjustments for staff, and delay purchasing new equipment/supplies.

We are committed to providing this valuable resource to children and families and will exhaust every possible option to continue doing it, but the fact remains that Pennsylvania’s premiere pre-kindergarten program is reaching a breaking point.

To be true to the Commonwealth’s commitment to invest in early childhood, leaders must seriously consider what that commitment entails. State-funded early childhood programs have no additional tax base to draw upon to balance expenses. The federal government recognizes what is needed to support essential high quality early childhood programs – reliable, annual increases in funds appropriated to support the program. It is time for Pennsylvania’s government leaders to recognize and implement this strategy in a sustainable way.