November 29, 2017
When Robert Browning penned the phrase “[a person’s]reach should exceed their grasp,” he reminded us that the ability to achieve something big may hinge on our willingness to attempt something seemingly impossible.
The enormity of the challenges of meeting our goal of ensuring every child in PA has access to quality, affordable early learning is well documented. Too few children and families in our state have access to high-quality early learning. In fact:
- 177,000 PA children are eligible for publicly funded pre-K yet PA only provides enough funding support for 67,400 of PA’s eligible children to enroll in a high-quality pre-k program;
- Only 1 out of 17 eligible PA children participates in high-quality early learning; and
- PA is supporting 35,000 fewer kids and their families with child care assistance than in 2008.
The Early Learning Investment Commission was created in 2008 for the purpose of mobilizing business leaders across Pennsylvania to address this challenge and to build support for increased public investment in early learning.
Over the course of the past decade, the Commission has served a unique role working in concert with the Governor’s office, the PA Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL), and the General Assembly along with an impressive group of child advocates to increase in the number of children receiving high-quality care and education. As business leaders in their respective fields and industries, Commission members have a keen understanding of the importance of high-quality early learning on PA’s workforce, both to ensure that today’s employees have reliable, quality care for their children and to develop the workforce of tomorrow.
As Katherine B. Stevens Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute made clear during her keynote address to the Commission’s 2017 Planning and Orientation Meeting last month, laying the groundwork for tomorrow’s workforce and supporting a strong workforce today requires “high quality child care…to build the human capital that a prosperous and sustainable” society depends on.
Stevens lauded the work of the Commission to address these challenges, and noted that PA has many advantages over other states upon which to build. She also made it clear that despite all of our efforts we have much work yet to do. She challenged our Commissioners to do even more to address the needs of our children and families.
We’re up for the challenge. In fact, the Commission adopted a new Strategic Plan for 2017-2020 that established a far reaching and impactful policy agenda to promote increase early childhood investments in our state. Specifically, the Commission’s policy priorities are to:
- Increase the availability of evidence-based home visiting programs to strengthen families and meet the comprehensive needs of infants and young children at highest risk;
- Increase the availability of high-quality child care through the child care subsidies for at-risk children and for parents who are working or pursuing education or job training;
- Increase investments to improve child care quality and increase the number of high-quality providers serving at-risk children;
- Ensure a sustainable business model for the provision of high-quality child care for at-risk children;
- Elevate the early care and education profession, recognizing the value added and skills required;
- Increase the number of at-risk children enrolled in high-quality Pre-K;
- Support for policies and investments that include children with developmental delays and disabilities in high-quality early care and education programs and that provide ongoing supports to parents and providers; and
- Ensure the use of data to manage and evaluate early care and education programs.
If that sounds like an ambitious agenda, you’re not wrong. The fact is that despite our efforts and successes, too many of PA’s neediest children still don’t have access to high-quality early learning that we know will prepare them to succeed in life and ultimately benefit Pennsylvania’s economic future.
For the past decade, Commissioners have stepped forward to make every child in Pennsylvania a top priority. As we enter the next decade we take willingly and with alacrity the challenge for ourselves and our Commonwealth to do more because our kids are counting on us.
The goal now is to ensure that our reach will not exceed our grasp.
Carey Harris is the executive director of the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission.