Here’s who’s benefitting from Philly’s pre-K expansion

 Patty Cronin (right) leads circle time for new preschoolers at SPIN-Parkwood.(Emma Lee/WHYY, file)

Patty Cronin (right) leads circle time for new preschoolers at SPIN-Parkwood.(Emma Lee/WHYY, file)

As Philadelphia’s pre-K program approaches its three-month anniversary, new data on the program shows that families in PHLpreK are, on the whole, poorer than the city average.

That’s one of many inferences that can be drawn from a raft of new figures released Monday by the mayor’s office.

The data dump details the number of children enrolled in the new program; the types of providers serving them; and demographic information about the families who’ve taken advantage of the city’s high-profile pre-K expansion.

A few highlights:

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So far the city has contracted for 1,996 slots; 1,870 have been filled. Over the last few months, city officials have been reallocating seats based on where demand is highest. That process has yielded an enrollment bump, but about 6 percent of seats remain vacant. Remember, this initial enrollment period is part one of a multi-year expansion effort. Eventually the city pre-K program will have about 6,500 children.
The mean household income of children enrolled in PHLpreK is $31,776. That’s not an exact figure because it only takes into account the 1,227 children who enrolled through the city’s PHLpreK hotline. The remainder enrolled through individual pre-K sites. But this initial estimate at least indicates something about the kids Philadelphia’s pre-K expansion is serving. The mean household income across all Philadelphians is $59,766. So these numbers would suggest the city pre-K program is serving a poorer-than-average population.
Of those children who enrolled in PHLpreK through the city’s hotline, 48.9 percent come from families living below the federal poverty line. Citywide, just over 26 percent of families live below the federal poverty line. Again, the subset of pre-K families is poorer than the city as a whole. Also of note, 90 percent of PHLpreK families live at 300 percent of the poverty line or below. That means nine out of every 10 pre-K enrollees would have qualified for the state’s Pre-K Counts program, which has an income limit of 300 percent of the federal poverty line or below. Unlike Pre-K Counts and the federally funded Head Start program, PHLpreK does not have an income limit. Any 3- or 4-year-old can apply and receive a government-subsidized education no matter their family wealth. Other cities have done this to encourage integration and move toward a universal pre-K system. But some question whether wealthier families should receive precious pre-K slots at the expense of needier families. Last year, City Council President Darrell Clarke and councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez argued the city’s pre-K program should have an income cap. The mayor’s office said it would target new seats to poorer areas; so far, it would appear they’ve stuck to that strategy. Clearly, though, at least some families who wouldn’t have otherwise qualified for taxpayer-funded pre-K are now receiving that service through the city.
Thanks to the pre-K expansion, centers have hired 251 new staff at an average hourly wage of $14.72. For a worker logging 40 hours a week at 52 weeks a year, that would come out to about $30,600 annually. The city’s pre-K expansion has been bankrolled by the city’s new beverage tax. Since the tax’s passage, the mayor’s office and beverage industry lobbyists have waged a public relations war over whether the tax has been a net benefit for the city’s economy. These latest figures won’t end that battle, but they do provide new benchmarks. The salary information is also interesting to note. Prior to the latest pre-K expansion, the average lead teacher at a privately run early childhood facility in Philadelphia started at $11.91 an hour, according to a 2016 report. Assistant teachers began at $9.52 an hour. The city’s new figure, $14.72, combines newly hired teachers, administrators, and support staff. So it’s tough to make an apples-to-apples comparison. The city caught some flak for expanding through private providers instead of through school district sites where pre-K teachers are unionized and start at more than $40,000 a year. Without question, those hired through PHLPrek aren’t making nearly that much. But there’s at least the possibility they’re doing better than average. Also worth noting, there are still 38 open teaching positions in PHLPreK, a figure that represents about 13 percent of all teaching slots.
The city has funded 150 new pre-K classrooms through 88 distinct providers. Of those 88 providers, 49 were already considered “quality” providers. The other 39 are not deemed to be high quality yet, but were given provisional contracts so they could improve as judged by the state’s STARS rating system. So far, four providers have made the transition from low quality to high quality.
Most of the students in Philadelphia’s pre-K program are completely new to the child care center they are now attending. Centers did have the option of “converting” students. In other words, they could take previously served kids and simply switch them onto the PHLPreK rolls. That largely has not happened. The mayor’s office says 301 students are conversions. The rest of the roughly 1,500 students in PHLpreK are newbies.

Below you can check out all the data released Monday by the mayor’s office.

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