Strong Beginnings, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from heraldpost’s photostream

April is the annual Month of the Young Child, a month each year when we should reflect on the ways that local government can support families with young children to build the foundations they need for healthy successful lives. One of the most critical interventions government can make is in the provision of high-quality early childhood education. There are more than 10,000 children in Pittsburgh between the ages of one and five, yet less than half of them are being provided with any form of early childhood education. Of that portion a much smaller percentage are being educated in facilities rated STAR 3 or 4, the highest levels of quality under the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Keystone STARS program. We know that children who receive high-quality early childhood education are happier, healthier, and are set on a path to a more secure future. We know that early childhood education works –- for both kids and our society. Studies show that for every dollar spent on quality early childhood education, we save up to $17 later on. It is time to work together to offer every child in Pittsburgh the opportunity to succeed. It is time to make sure our kids are on the path to become Promise-ready by age five.

1. Pittsburgh Early Ed

The Pittsburgh Promise has been a game-changer for the City of Pittsburgh. The promise of a free or reduced-cost college education has helped to stabilize enrollment in our public schools, has improved graduation rates, has motivated students to improve their attendance and academic achievement, and has brought new residents to the city. The success of the Promise has demonstrated that incentives and financial support make a difference in kids’ lives, but it has also demonstrated that we need to be doing much more as a city to get kids ready to take advantage of it before they get to high school. If a child hasn’t had a strong educational foundation by the time they reach high school it can often be too late to make significant improvement and work toward graduation and Promise-eligibility.

We have to continue the great work of the Pittsburgh Promise and supplement it with a new program to offer free, universal high-quality early childhood education to every child in Pittsburgh. We have to start kids on the path to Promise-eligibility when they enter the Kindergarten classroom for the very first time. Building on the groundwork that has been laid by our foundation community, early education advocacy groups, educators, and other leaders at the local, state, and federal levels we will create a new program to do just that. Thanks to leaders at the state level we now have the infrastructure in place in Pennsylvania to make free, universal childhood education work and we have the STARS assessment system to make sure that the education provided is of the highest quality. I will pull together the stakeholders and the funding to make it happen when I am Mayor.