Originally published: New Pittsburgh Courier, 04/4/2019
With the state budget looming, interest in the state investment in public education is higher than ever. While Governor Wolf and the PA legislature have increased education funding over the past several budget cycles, more continued investments —like the governor’s proposed additional $50 million for high quality Pre-K programs—are sorely needed. Pennsylvania still ranks 18th of 30 states investing in high-quality pre-K, and children around the state are left without a high-quality public pre-K option. More than 700 eligible children in Pittsburgh are not being served. We must do more to provide access to these children.
It’s a matter of justice. As studies have shown, Pittsburgh has a racial equity problem. Our Black students disproportionately face suspensions, and it’s been proven that the city schools have a persistent racial gap in student achievement. While Pittsburgh City Schools aims to eliminate racial disparity in achievement levels of African American students by increasing proficiency in literacy and math, it is a slow-moving target.
A new study, “Pre-K works for Pittsburgh,” prepared by the Economy League, shows that high-quality pre-K programs are an important tool to further remedy the racial disparities in the city’s public education system. The study looked at the more than 3,200 eligible 3- and 4 year-olds who live in the City of Pittsburgh who are enrolled in public high quality pre-K, and found that investments in pre-K have contributed to a narrowing of the persistent racial achievement gap in literacy and math in the Kindergarten year.
Specifically, the study found a one-percent or smaller difference between White and African American children’s school readiness. Narrowing the racial gap in a city where 30 percent of children live in poverty is a huge achievement towards racial equity in Pittsburgh. With Pittsburgh Public Schools and community-based providers working closely together, they have improved the quality of early learning programs, allowing for smoother transitions into the K-12 system. Additionally, under the guidelines of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), there is renewed attention to the role all school districts must play to ensure alignment and collaboration with educators in the birth through third grade continuum.
In a city where these racial disparities are difficult to eradicate, any program that puts all of our children on equal footing from the start should be supported and encouraged.
Esther L. Bush
President & CEO
Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh