Pre-K expansion in Philadelphia celebrates second anniversary

With court battles over the city's sweetened beverage tax in the rearview mirror, Mayor Jim Kenney celebrates two years of expanded pre-K — and plans for further growth.

Mayor Jim Kenney observes a pre-K class in Southwest Philadelphia Friday. (Tom MacDonald/ WHYY)

Mayor Jim Kenney observes a pre-K class in Southwest Philadelphia Friday. (Tom MacDonald/ WHYY)

It’s the second year of expanded pre-K in Philadelphia.

Mayor Jim Kenney celebrated the occasion Friday an early childhood education center in Southwest Philadelphia, situated in what used to be a roller-skating rink. At the center that expanded with funds from the city’s sweetened beverage tax, Kenney said kids who go through the program are better prepared as they progress through school.

A late-summer visit to a city school convinced him of that.

“I went into the school, first day of kindergarten, 23 or 26 kid are melting down,” he said. “Kids holding onto their moms’ ankles and necks not wanting to go.

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“And there were five kids sitting there with their hands folded, erect at their spot. At the end of the class, I asked how many went to pre-K and the five of them raised their hands.”

Margaret Cobb said she couldn’t afford to send her preschooler to the program if it were not supported with beverage tax money because her new job pays enough that she lost a child care subsidy.

“Once I started my new job with SEPTA, I made too much for [the subsidy program], and they cut me off,” Cobb said. “But I didn’t make enough to pay for daycare out of pocket, which was $185 a week.”

Now that the beverage tax court appeals are over, Kenney said enrollment will grow to 5,500 students by 2022.

The tax made headlines this week as the owner of several ShopRite grocery stores in the region announced he was closing one in West Philadelphia, blaming a slump in sales on the 1.5-cents-per ounce tax.

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