DUNMORE, November 18, 2022 – Yesterday, State Senator Katie Muth (D- Berks/Chester/Montgomery), Chair of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, joined state Senator Marty Flynn (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne) to host a public hearing at the Fricchione Early Learning Center at Marywood University on access to early childhood education and literacy issues facing Pennsylvania students.
The hearing featured testimony from various educators and policy experts who all discussed the importance of high-quality childcare, early language, and pre-literacy skill development and how literacy has lifelong impacts on mental health, academic achievement, and professional success. Also discussed were issues regarding Pennsylvanians staffing shortages and inadequate compensation. A recent survey of almost 1,000 PA childcare programs showed nearly 7,000 vacant positions, resulting in more than 32,000 children languishing on waitlists for childcare.
“Being a proficient reader has an impact on a student’s entire education, and ultimately their ability to succeed. Those in power in the state government need to make the necessary structural changes to fully support high-quality early childhood development, pre-K education and literacy programs, as well as adequately compensate the professional staff that take care of and teach our kids,” Muth said. “Yesterday’s hearing should be a wakeup call to all legislators and the incoming administration that PA is on the verge of a childcare and literacy crisis. We heard firsthand from educators, advocates, and policy experts about the deficits and unmet needs of our children, childcare workers, teachers, and families. There needs to be urgent action to address these structural deficiencies to ensure that every child and family has access to what they need to thrive. Decades of inadequate funding for these critical initiatives have left families and communities without the support they need and deserve. Leaders in our state government need to implement long term investments so that all Pennsylvania families have access to high-quality, accessible early childcare and education opportunities for their children, provided by professionals that are properly trained, adequately compensated, and supported.”
Literacy skills are considered one of the strongest predictors of health status, more so than age, income, education level, or race/ethnic group. Studies show that children who participate in high-quality Pre-K programs perform better in school, are more likely to graduate, and earn more throughout their lives compared to peers without access to early learning programs.
“Thanks to the expertise of today’s testifiers, I am certain that we have increased public awareness and engagement around the importance of early childhood education and how access affects literacy success,” said Senator Marty Flynn.
According to statistics compiled by the US Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, 19 percent of high school graduates cannot read, and 21 percent of adults read below a 5th grade level.
“It’s important to note that before COVID struck, far too many children in the state were failing to meet the state’s benchmarks for successful third grade reading proficiency,” Donna Cooper, Executive Director, Children First added. “Over half – 51.3% – of third grade children statewide failed to meet the state’s benchmark for proficiency according to the last valid year of PSSA results in 2019.”
Cooper noted that among the counties represented by Senator Muth and Senator Flynn, even in the highest performing county – Chester County – a quarter of third grade children failed to meet benchmarks for successful third grade reading proficiency. In Lackawanna County, 41.6 percent of students failed to meet benchmarks.
Other testifiers at the hearing included Donna Reid-Kilgore, Pre-K Counts Teacher, Bloom Early Education Center; Laura Sosik, 2nd Grade teacher at Isaac Tripp Elementary School, Scranton School District; Donna Salva, Adjunct Professor in Graduate Reading and Education Programs, Marywood University; Lindsey Ramsey, Assistant Director of Policy and Practice, Trying Together; Kimberly Early, Senior Director of Public Policy and Advocacy, Pennsylvania Association for the Education of Young Children; and Donna Cooper, Executive Director, Children First.
State Reps. Kyle Mullins, Eddie Day Pashinski, Bridget Kosierowski, and Thom Welby also participated in the public hearing.
Other members of the Senate Democratic Caucus that participated in the hearing virtually included Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, Senator Amanda Cappelletti, Senator Sharif Street, and Senator Tim Kearney
All submitted testimony from the policy hearing and the full video is available at SenatorMuth.com/Policy.
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Panel 1: Educators
- Donna Reid-Kilgore, Pre-K Counts Teacher – Bloom Early Education Center | Teach Plus PA Policy Fellow
- Laura Sosik, 2nd Grade Teacher – Isaac Tripp Elementary School (Scranton School District) | Teach Plus PA Policy Fellow
- Donna Salva, Adjunct Professor In Graduate Reading and Education Programs – Marywood University
Panel 2: Policy Experts
- Lindsey Ramsey, Assistant Director of Policy and Practice – Trying Together
- Kimberly Early, Senior Director of Public Policy and Advocacy – Pennsylvania Association for the Education of Young Children
- Donna Cooper, Executive Director – Children First