AS A CAREER educator dedicated to improving our schools and ensuring that children in our poorest communities get the chance to succeed, I applaud Mayor Kenney for kicking off his term in office by seeking to expand educational opportunities for Philadelphia's most vulnerable children. I have serious concerns, however, that the mayor's plan to expand universal pre-kindergarten to every Philadelphia child will not achieve what it is designed to do: putting tens of thousands of our poorest children on the path to academic success. Kenney's proposal would effectively reinvent the wheel. Instead of providing additional resources for the Philadelphia School District's nationally recognized pre-K program (the largest in the city, serving about 9,000 3- and 4-years-olds) the administration wants to expand the use of private providers. This approach does a disservice both to students and to teachers.
I applaud Mayor Kenney's efforts to establish universal prekindergarten for all children in the School District of Philadelphia. Although the costs of this program are significant, the mayor seems to realize in ways that others can't or won't that investing in children at this initial stage of their formal schooling will pay for itself many times over. There is abundant research supporting the notion that prekindergarten introduces and reinforces school readiness skills, such as learning to share, to wait one's turn, to identify letters by sight (a critical pre-reading skill), and, even more fundamentally, to make friends and interact with others of one's own age. Research also strongly supports the notion of early intervention: The sooner we identify learning, attentional, or emotional issues in children, the sooner we can remedy those issues and help each child meet his or her potential.
Charter education in Philadelphia is a volatile business. Each day, the public perception of charter schools is clouded by the opposition hurling unfounded accusations and vocalizing in protest. There will always be opposition to change, that much is certain, but when change puts communities on a better path, why must the opposition be so fierce? In the bestselling book Who Moved My Cheese?, the author says that "if you do not change, you can become extinct." When something is consistently broken, at some point, intervention must occur. Sadly, many of Philadelphia's public schools fall into this category. With more than 70,000 students in charter schools and 20,000 on waiting lists to enroll, how can you deny the overwhelming demand for change? Philadelphia parents who are looking for educational choice aren't viewing charter management as an assault on the public school system. Instead, they are viewing this as an opportunity for their children to enjoy smaller class sizes, better teachers, and a safe learning environment.
House Majority Leader Rep. Dave Reed, (717) 705-7173
Senate President Pro Tempore Sen. Joe Scarnati, (717) 787-7084
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Jake Corman, (717) 787-1377