Pre-K investments worthwhile

Local voices

Blair County is our home, and we love it. The scenery is lush. Our industries helped shape a nation. The people are generous and full of community spirit.

With all these blessings, opportunity abounds, but not for everyone. Too many of our young children have been denied the chance to enjoy high-quality prekindergarten, which prepares them for success in school and in life.

They fail to live up to their full potential, and our community misses out on the contributions they could have made to our neighborhoods and our businesses.

Quality pre-k coincides with the years before age 5, when 90 percent of brain development occurs.

In these years, the brain builds its foundation for learning and critical thought, but not all development is equal. Imagine planting two trees but only providing water and sunlight to one. You know which one will thrive.

The same can be said for young children.

Quality pre-k exposes children to scientifically proven activities known to strengthen the brain’s neurological pathways. These children enter kindergarten with the academic, social and emotional skills needed for school success.

By contrast, children who lack quality early learning experiences miss those foundational experiences.

By the time they enter kindergarten, they could be too far behind to catch up.

We know from decades of research, high-quality pre-k especially benefits children living in lower-income families.

By investing in high-quality pre-k, we give kids a strong start, while yielding returns that are both immediate and long-lasting.

However, more than 112,900 eligible preschool children aren’t served by high-quality, publicly funded pre-k, even though they qualify.

In Blair County, more than 55 percent of all eligible children living in low-income families don’t have the opportunity to attend high-quality pre-k classrooms, including children in these local school districts:

– Bellwood-Antis School District: 100 percent, or an estimated 125 kids.

– Claysburg-Kimmel School District: 71 percent, or an estimated 121 kids.

– Altoona Area School District: 58 percent, or an estimated 665 kids.

– Hollidaysburg Area School District: 61 percent, or an estimated 131 kids.

That’s just a sampling of local need. You can find more information about regional school district results in Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children’s recent report, “A Path Forward,” at www.papartner

ships.org/prekinpa.

United Way of Blair County has made early childhood a community priority because every child deserves to thrive.

We have identified a need to make sure all children have an ongoing relationship with a caring adult or older youth that promotes healthy beliefs and standards.

We support Parents as Teachers, which gives information, support and encouragement to families to help their young children develop optimally.

We offer community impact grants that encourage the accessibility, affordability and abundance of childcare that is high-quality.

There’s much more to be done.

Public investments are needed to ensure a strong and well-financed child care system that serves as the foundation of effective pre-k delivery.

By supporting substantial investments in high-quality pre-k, including the $75 million funding increase proposed by Gov. Tom Wolf in this year’s state budget, we give more children the chance to get a good start in life, succeed in school and become productive citizens.

Shildt is the United Way of Blair County executive director, and O’Harrow is the United Way of Blair County board president.