Philadelphia’s universal pre-K commission begins work

 Pre-K teacher Danielle Slipp shows Quincy Hylaris how to make an L. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Pre-K teacher Danielle Slipp shows Quincy Hylaris how to make an L. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia’s push to make quality preschool available citywide has taken another step with the inaugural meeting of the Mayor’s Commission on Universal Pre-Kindergarten.

The 17-member commission, established by a voter referendum last May, now faces a long list of questions, including where preschool programs should be located and who should be hired to provide them.

But the commission’s co-chair, Sharon Easterling, said the biggest question the group must contend with is how to pay for them.

“High quality programs are not cheap, but make no mistake,” said Easterling, head of the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children. “They’re far less expensive than … special education, juvenile justice, incarceration, welfare dependency, and chronic health problems — all of which are ameliorated when children get off to a good start in life.”

City officials are counting on the state for much of the funding. and Gov. Tom Wolf has requested about $100 million in this year’s budget to support pre-K programs. But Harrisburg Republicans are proposing a much more modest increase of about $25 million.

Laying out a plan for financing the city’s effort will be a key aspect of the commission’s work, Easterling said.

The group will also use its monthly meetings and working groups to consider any number of nuts and bolts.

“What are the needs around physical space, what are the needs around workforce? Who should deliver this, is it just something that should happen in the public domain, should it be a mixed-delivery system? Those are some of the questions we’re going to grapple with,” Easterling said.

The commission, planning to deliver a final report in the spring, will host a series of public meetings in the fall and issue a draft in January.

Philadelphia is home to about 100,000 children under 5; officials estimate only one in four has access to quality public preschool.

The commission’s full membership includes a second co-chair, Loretta Sweet Jemmott of Drexel University, as well as the following members:

• Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell• Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown• Catherine Blunt, former principal, Parkway Center City High School• Miriam Calderon, senior adviser for early learning, Commonwealth Foundation• Diane Castelbuono, deputy chief for early learning, School District of Philadelphia• Donna Cooper, executive director, Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY)• Rob Dubow, director of finance, City of Philadelphia• Jennifer Duffy, principal, Henry Lea Elementary School• Michelle Figlar, deputy secretary of the Office of Child Development and Early Learning, Pennsylvania Department of Education• Vanessa Garrett-Harley, commissioner of the Department of Human Services, City of Philadelphia• Alan Greenberger, deputy mayor for economic opportunity and director of commerce, City of Philadelphia• Reuben Jones, executive director, Frontline Dads, Inc.• Pheng Lim, principal, Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures (FACT) Charter School• Lisa Nutter, president, Philadelphia Academies, Inc.

Universal Pre-K Commission Unveiled Philadelphia’s push to make quality preschool available citywide took another step today with the inaugural meeting of the Mayor’s Commission on Universal Pre-Kindergarten. The seventeen-member commission, established by a voter referendum last May, now faces a long list of questions, including where preschool programs should be located, and who should be hired to provide them. But the commission’s co-chair, Sharon Easterling, says the biggest question with which the group must contend is how to pay for them. “High quality programs are not cheap, but make no mistake,” said Easterling, head of the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children. “They’re far less expensive than … special education, juvenile justice, incarceration, welfare dependency, and chronic health problems – all of which are ameliorated when children get off to a good start in life.” City officials are counting on the state for much of the funding. and governor Tom Wolf has requested about $100 million in this year’s budget to support pre-k programs. But Harrisburg Republicans are proposing a much more modest increase of about $25 million. Laying out a plan for financing the city’s effort will be a key aspect of the commission’s work, Easterling said. But the group will also use its monthly meetings and working groups to consider any number of nuts and bolts. “What are the needs around physical space, what are the needs around workforce? Who should deliver this, is it just something that should happen in the public domain, should it be a mixed-delivery system? Those are some of the questions we’re going to grapple with,” Easterling said. The commission will deliver a final report in the spring of 2016. It will host a series of public meetings in the fall and issue a draft in January. Philadelphia is home to about 100,000 children under five; officials estimate only one in four has access to quality public preschool. The commission’s full membership includes a second co-chair, Loretta Sweet Jemmott of Drexel University, as well as the following members: Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown Catherine Blunt, Former Principal, Parkway Center City High School Miriam Calderon, Senior Advisor for Early Leaning, Commonwealth Foundation Diane Castelbuono, Deputy Chief for Early Learning, School District of Philadelphia Donna Cooper, Executive Director, Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY Rob Dubow, Director of Finance, City of Philadelphia Jennifer Duffy, Principal, Henry Lea Elementary School Michelle Figlar, Deputy Secretary of the Office of Child Development and Early Learning, Pennsylvania Department of Education Vanessa Garrett-Harley, Commissioner of the Department of Human Services, City of Philadelphia  Alan Greenberger, Deputy Mayor for Economic Opportunity and Director of Commerce, City of Philadelphia Reuben Jones, Executive Director, Frontline Dads, Inc. Pheng Lim, Principal, Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures (FACT) Charter School Lisa Nutter, President, Philadelphia Academies, Inc.

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