With Gov. Josh Shapiro’s first budget address now just two weeks away, advocates and lawmakers pressed the case Tuesday for increased state support for early childhood programs, buttressing their arguments with new polling data showing widespread public support for such efforts.
Nearly eight in 10 respondents to the poll commissioned by a coalition of advocacy groups said they supported additional state funding for pre-kindergarten programs and child care programs. Nearly two-thirds (62%) said they favored additional state support for home visitation programs.
Overall, 98% of respondents said they believe early childhood education programs are important. That support cut across geography and party affiliation, advocates were quick to point out during a news conference in the Capitol rotunda.
“All parents are challenged to meet the needs of their children’s earliest years against the demands of the workforce,” Steve Doster, the Pennsylvania director of the advocacy group Mission Readiness, said. “For more than a decade, Republicans and Democrats have prioritized funding for early childhood [programs].”
The poll, conducted by Susquehanna Polling & Research in Harrisburg, included the opinions of 800 registered voters. It was conducted from Feb. 1 through Feb. 7, with a margin of error of 3.4%.
The 2022-23 state budget approved by lawmakers, and signed into law by former Gov. Tom Wolf, includes $60 million in new state support for the state’s Pre-K Counts program, and $19 million for the state’s Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program, according to data compiled by the advocacy group Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.
On Tuesday, advocates also stressed the need for competitive wages for childcare workers, who make an average of about $11.26 an hour, up to a maximum of $16.26 an hour. Data show high turnover among those workers, making it harder for parents to count on consistent care.
More than eight in 10 respondents to the poll (81%) said they favored using state money to give those workers a raise.
“Folks in our area have understood for a long time the important role that high-quality early care and education programs play in benefiting the social and economic needs of our local families and the educational and developmental needs of our children,” state Sen.-elect Lynda Schlegel Culver, R-Northumberland, said.
Culver, who currently serves in the state House, is among the members of a bicameral, bipartisan caucus focused on addressing early childhood programs and causes.
Parent TaTyana Abreu, a mother of two whose children are enrolled at York Day Early Learning in York County, said she’s seen the benefit of such programs first hand.
“To say my husband and I are grateful for York Day is an understatement,” she said. “We now have two children, who we can confidently drop off every morning knowing they are well taken care of while we work.”
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