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Boats afloat on rapidly rising tide

Last November, scant months after City Council voted in favor of the sweetened beverage tax, Philadelphia nimbly rolled out the applications process to enroll tots for quality pre-k.

There were two concerns that gave pause to many: 1. Will the City fill 2,000 new spots in the middle of the school year? 2. Will the bev tax meet revenue projections?   

The answer to both is YES.

Two weeks ago, media reports correctly pegged the number of children in soda tax-funded quality pre-k classes at 1,500, which a few critics took to mean a lower than expected demand. That’s certainly one way to look at it, that is, if you subscribe to the validity of alternative facts.

But if you’re old school and yearn for actual facts, here’s a few. As of Thursday, Philly has 1,710 brand new preschoolers and that number will continue to swell thanks to this rapidly rising tide. Despite starting the program mid-year, the pre-k call center logged 5,214 calls from families and, in reality, demand has already stripped supply. So why does it appear demand has fallen short? Let’s call it undertow.

Beyond the 1710 already enrolled, there are another 602 children with completed applications, eligible for pre-k, yet without a pre-k provider. This is because neighborhoods where demand is highest, such as Poweltown and West Philly, pre-k seats were filled far quicker than in other areas.  

It’s a matter of shifting seats to where they’re needed most, now that it’s more obvious where those neighborhoods are. With a few easy tweaks, the City will hit its 2,000 target, but leave 300 on waitlists, at least until the City clears a final legal hurdle. (A suit filed by Big Soda was already dismissed by the Common Pleas Court last year that found the beverage tax to be legal; it is under appeal in Commonwealth Court.)  

But that we’re this close to meeting capacity so quickly is bittersweet. It’s sweet as a testament to the strength of the many high quality pre-k providers we have in the city. Bitter, because it underscores just how great and urgent the demand truly is.

In PCCY’s latest report on the status of children, we learned two out of three children eligible for publicly funded pre-k were unable to enroll in high quality classes due to lack of capacity. Of the new cohort of preschoolers, 88% were from households that were at or below the 300% of the federal poverty level.  

But did the City overestimate how much the tax would bring in?

While Big Soda continues to push their sweetened beverage tax onto the backs of impoverished families, they claim it won’t generate the funds the City projected it would and thus the tax ought to be abandoned. In fact, since January 1, the tax on beverage distributors has raised $5.7 million, or double what the Revenue Department estimated.

 

Come to PHL City Hall Thursday, March 2, @10am, for the Mayor’s 2017 Budget Address and show your support for pre-k! 

 

“They’re pushing them toward college and they’re dropping out. They fall back and don’t succeed, whereas if there was a less-intensive track, they would.” Sen. John Eichelberger, Blair County, of Philadelphia’s minority students.

READ ALL ABOUT IT

 

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 “The General Assembly, to which Eichelberger was elected in 2006, has been an architect of that failing system with years of inequitable and inadequate funding.” Daily News Editorial, responding to the Senator’s assertion ‘very poor schools’ were to blame for low student achievement. READ IT HERE