Rules change for Pre-K Counts programs

    Many middle class parents in Pennsylvania are suddenly finding their kids are not eligible for state-funded pre-school programs.

    Many middle class parents in Pennsylvania are suddenly finding their kids are not eligible for state-funded pre-school programs. [audio:100309msprek.mp3]

    Philadelphia parent Lara Howe was counting on sending her daughter to the Bright Futures program at the Bache Martin school in Fairmount. She was on a waiting list for over a year and had been promised a spot. But she just found out that the state’s Pre-K Counts program, which funds Bright Futures, has changed its admission rules, and Howe makes too much money for her daughter to qualify:

    Howe: She is going to be 3 in June, and “Pre-K counts,” I have no idea what to do now, we’re on a couple wait lists, I guess we’ll wait, but nothing sounds that promising, more than anything, I guess any Pre-K will be delayed, it will be out of the neighborhood, it will be extremely expensive.

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    Howe says the program at Bache Martin had been one of the selling points in keeping her young family in the city.

    Pre-K Counts started as a step toward universal pre-school access in Pennsylvania. If offered free pre-school in public schools to kids facing educational challenges, among them inadequate family income. But it appears many schools admitted children on a first-come, first served basis, regardless of income. The program quickly became popular; in addition to the almost 12,000 children enrolled state-wide, 8000 kids are now on waiting lists. So last fall, officials decided to tighten admission rules, says Michael Race of the State Department of Education:

    Race: We decided to make the income eligibility guideline not just one of the options, but we decided to make it a requirement for enrollment in Pre-K counts.

    Income can not be greater than 300 percent of the federal poverty level – that’s about $66,000 a year for family of four.

    The changes will affect those enrolling for September of this year. In Philadelphia, parents applying to the “Bright Futures” program got letters last week informing them of the new admission rules.

    Donna Pikarski is deputy chief of early childhood education for the city. She says reactions have been mixed:

    Pikarski: Some parents are upset, rightly so, and quite frankly other parents are thrilled to death because they have been on a waiting list and they think that they now will have a better chance of getting in.

    In addition to changed admission rules, state officials say Pre-K counts is slated for a 2 percent cut in the coming budget year, which could reduce available slots.

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