State Rep. Frank Dermody advocates for more state funding for pre-school education
State Rep. Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, visited New Kensington on Monday to advocate for increased funding so more children can have access to quality pre-kindergarten education.
Dermody spent the morning at All Kids Are Special, a preschool and learning center inside St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church.
The state House minority leader, Dermody helped secure extra grant funding for the preschool last year, which allowed them to offer enrollment for 19 more children.
"They're doing great things for our kids," Dermody said.
A roundtable discussion and tour of the facility was planned by nonprofit organization Trying Together, which advocates for quality early child care and education in Pennsylvania.
Representatives from Trying Together, the United Way, private companies and staff from the facility all took part.
State data show 65 percent of eligible children don't have access to pre-K in Westmoreland County.
That equals a need for 125 additional classrooms.
Middle-class families qualify
Many middle-income families qualify for the state's Pre-K Counts program, which provides free pre-K education for children from 3 years old until they start kindergarten, but aren't able to get their children into a preschool to utilize the funds.
For example, a family of four that makes $75,300 or less qualifies for the program but may not have access to a preschool.
Lissa Shulman, public policy director with Trying Together, said families could be saving thousands of dollars a year by qualifying for Pre-K Counts.
"Those extra thousands are more than housing, taking away from saving for college (and) saving for other expenses," she said.
Early ed seen as essential
Cheryl Gartley, director of All Kids Are Special, said having a quality education prior to kindergarten is essential to ensuring children have the skills needed for their K-12 education.
"We have seen such a difference in some kids," Gartley said. "I think that Representative Dermody seems to understand the need."
Dermody said he considers supporting early childhood education one of his biggest responsibilities as a state lawmaker.
Dermody said it pays off for everyone when children get a quality pre-K education because studies show they are more likely to go on to be productive citizens and less likely to be incarcerated.
He said the up-front cost of paying for education is much less expensive than paying to keep someone in jail, which he said costs about $40,000 per year per inmate.
"It's pay now or pay later," he said. "These programs do work."
Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4680, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @emilybalser.