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Oberlander, Law Enforcement Leaders Tour Keystone SMILES, Discuss Challenges of Child Care and Pre-K Education

Thursday, April 7, 2022 @ 12:04 AM

Posted by Joanne Bauer

KNOX, Pa. (EYT) – Pa. State Representative Donna Oberlander and local law enforcement leaders on Wednesday toured Pre-K Counts and Keystone STAR 4 child care provider Keystone SMILES Community Learning Center and held a discussion on the continued challenges of the early care and education sector.

(Photos and videos by Dave Cyphert of ProPoint Media Photography)

Participants in the discussion were Representative Donna Oberlander; Knox Borough Police Chief Nicole Bauer; Clarion County District Attorney Drew Welsh; Bruce Clash, Pennsylvania State Director, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids; and Tracy Weaver, Outreach and Communications Coordinator, Pennsylvania Association for the Education of Young Children (PennAEYC).

Monica Weeter, Director of School Readiness Programs at Keystone SMILES Community Learning Center, discussed the impact that staffing shortages are having on the children they serve.

“We know turnover has a really negative impact on a child’s development because the most important indicator of a quality program is the teacher in the classroom. The interactions between teachers and children are critical to a child’s healthy development,” Weeter explained.

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Throughout Clarion County and the entire commonwealth, early learning providers are experiencing significant staffing shortages due to a lack of applicants, in part because the average child care worker makes $10.69 per hour. Speakers made it clear that the child care staffing crisis is very real and impacting local families’ ability to access the care they need in order to work. Now, more than ever, children, their families, and businesses in Clarion County need to have high-quality programs accessible to ensure businesses have the workforce they need.

The panel stressed the need for direct action to boost wages for early care and education professionals.

Given that Governor Wolf’s budget proposal flat funds Pennsylvania’s Child Care Services and Child Care Assistance line items for the third consecutive year, advocates are urging state policymakers to allocate $115 million in sustainable state and/or federal funds to provide a $2 per hour wage supplement for teachers and staff. This would help child care providers retain their current workforce.

Expanding access to state-funded high-quality pre-k for more eligible children was also discussed.

Knox Borough Police Chief Nicole Bauer (pictured below), noted the significant long-term research showing that young children who participate in high-quality early learning programs are less likely to be held back in school, are more likely to graduate from high school, and are less likely to have problematic social and self-control behavior that can lead to later juvenile and adult crime.

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Also participating was Clarion County District Attorney Drew Welsh. He described important benefits that children receive when early learning providers engage parents to help their children become eager learners. Healthy child development and being ready to enter school put children on the path to success instead of delinquency, he said.

Bruce Clash, Pennsylvania State Director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, added, “Law enforcement leaders know that our best strategy to increase public safety is to expand programs like high-quality pre-k.”

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Governor Wolf’s proposed 2022-23 state budget includes a $60 million increase for Pre-K Counts and $10 million increase for the Head Start State Supplemental Assistance Program, which continues the tradition of expanding access to high-quality pre-k. This new funding will serve approximately 2,300 additional children in these high-quality early learning programs and would provide a rate increase for providers to increase teacher compensation, bolster the early education workforce, and enhance program
quality.

Localized data was also provided, showing that 94 percent of the 570 eligible children under age five in Clarion County are not served by Child Care Works (CCW), the Pennsylvania state-subsidized child care program based on family income. Additionally, 241 children – or 45 percent of eligible children – do not have access to high-quality publicly funded pre-k in Clarion County.

Pre-K for PA launched in 2014 with the vision that every 3- and 4-year-old in Pennsylvania will have access to high-quality pre-k. Learn more at www.prekforpa.org.

Start Strong PA launched in 2019 to support healthy child development, working families, and the economy by increasing access to and affordability of high-quality child care programs for young children. Learn more at www.startstrongpa.org.

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