MERCER COUNTY, Pa. (WKBN) – One group says more funding is needed to ensure that all children have access to early-childhood education.
According to Pre-K for PA, 57 percent of the eligible 3- and 4-year-olds in Mercer County have no access to high-quality early education.
“That’s a pretty substantial number of children who are starting in kindergarten classrooms with very little in the way of learning the alphabet, their numbers or just their social skills,” said Jim Micsky, executive director of the United Way of Mercer County.
The group is asking for more funding from the state because not all families can afford to pay for such programs. Leaders are asking Governor Tom Wolf to provide an additional $75 million for early childhood education — enough to cover 8,400 more children across the state.
Dr. April Torrence, of the Zion Education Center, started working in early child development in 1995 when she started an in-home daycare operation. With 70 percent of the families in Sharon living in poverty, she said funding from the state to pay for programs like this is crucial.
“Because families in this community are poverty-stricken, they don’t have the resources to pay for high-quality child care, so to have the funding here in the community is a plus,” said Torrence.
She said Zion Education Center lost 95 percent of its state funding in 2011, forcing them to eliminate seven staff members and 25 pre-K slots. Zion now receives funding to pay for 15 children.
If Wolf’s budget proposal is approved, the additional money would allow the facility to enroll more students.
“We want to reach as many families as we can, especially within walking distance, to come to the facility and receive a high-quality education,” Torrence said.
Zion Education Center in Sharon is one of 19 certified high-quality pre-K education programs in Mercer County. Pre-K for PA said 31 more classrooms like that are needed for the kids with no other access.