March 12, 2020
Mayor Kenney’s focus on education during his budget address on Thursday, March 5 should be applauded. His ambitious plan to fund tuition-free community college for low- and moderate-income families will enable thousands of Philadelphia residents to pursue higher education. The additional $45 million allocated for the School District of Philadelphia [this year], and the call for Harrisburg to increase funding for vital capital improvements in our schools, will undoubtedly provide relief for district officials that have been hamstrung by a lack of resources.
Additionally, the mayor’s continued drive to create 5,500 new quality pre-K seats in Philadelphia is essential for providing high-quality early learning opportunities to our city’s under-resourced communities. He knows that an investment in our children during the first four years of their life will pay dividends in their long-term success and build “lasting equity” in our communities. In just three years the program has served more than 4,000 students and their families. His success in this effort is essential and we should all be rooting for it.
But simply having access to quality early learning programs is not enough. What happens when these programs are not in session? Families and especially low-income families face a number of daunting challenges every day – particularly holding down a job while juggling the responsibilities of parenthood.
To make the City’s commitments to both education and reducing poverty more impactful, we all must recognize the need to support families beyond the traditional pre-K school day. The Philadelphia Commission on Universal Pre-Kindergarten report from 2016 said that families need wraparound services – before and after school – to allow parents to work and to ensure children are in safe, engaging environments. Yet this issue remains largely unaddressed across the city.
For one thing, families frequently have more than one child enrolled in different programs at different locations. For low-to-middle income families in Philadelphia, managing school pickups and drop-offs – often via public transportation – may leave little time for a full, traditional work day. Gaining access to quality, affordable wraparound and out-of-school-time programs, however, can be a challenge.
So, what happens to these families? Too often, hard choices are made. Jobs are lost or kids are left in less than ideal circumstances – or worse, left to fend for themselves.
Increasing access to wraparound resources allows parents to work and puts children in nurturing environments with healthy meals, educational programming and safe recreational activity. Quality wraparound programs effectively improve the gains created by PHL PreK and other educational investments by extending educational time for children. What results are stronger families, stronger communities and a stronger Philadelphia.