Expanding Access to High-Quality Early Childhood Education

Summary of Study

Early childhood education (ECE) has proven to effectively enhance children’s lives, not only throughout primary and secondary school, but also later into early adulthood. ECE is connected to increased high school graduation rates, increased employment, and decreased likelihood to commit crimes. Though the benefits of early childhood education are vast, 74.5 percent of 3-4 year olds in Pennsylvania did not have access to publicly funded, high-quality pre-K in 2018. Furthermore, only 38.8 percent of childcare centers meet high-quality standards.

The cost of pre-K and childcare is an average of $10,807 in Pennsylvania (state college tuition, by comparison, is $14,534). Childcare for one child is 17.5 percent of the average household income ($59,195) in Pennsylvania. Childcare for two children – an infant and a four-year-old – costs $21,614 on average, or 36.5 of the average income (or 138.5 percent of minimum wage income). A childcare worker would have to spend almost half of their salary to put their own child through childcare – even with a discount. Parents across the income spectrum need help when it comes to childcare costs.

To better secure the economy, as well as the future of the next generation, the Commonwealth could consider expanding access to high-quality ECE through various means and enhancing available ECE programs. With help from various pay-for-success programs and social impact bonds, the state and its Department of Education could explore a pilot program of universal pre-K. One approach would be to convert the existing Head Start program into a Universal Head Start model. All federal monies allotted to Head Start would remain solely for qualifying and enrolled children, as well as their educators. The funds from pay-for-success programs and social impact bonds, like PA Early Learning Investment Commission and PA Promise, would support children who do not qualify for Head Start, as well as any additional educators needed under this model. Though made possible through different funding sources, all children would receive the same high-quality early childhood education that Head Start provides its students.

Read the full policy report here