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Peduto: Preschool most important issue for reducing crime

Pittsburgh needs $20 million annually to meet a goal of enrolling every income-eligible child in high-quality preschool, officials said Tuesday.

Mayor Bill Peduto suggested that the city, Pittsburgh Public Schools, Pennsylvania and local foundations and corporations commit to sharing the costs for 10 years.

“I’m 100 percent behind what you’re doing here,” Peduto told educators and community leaders during a public forum chaired by City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak of Carrick. “Once you come up with the plan, I will work as the salesman to sell it.”

Peduto described preschool education as the “most important issue to reduce crime in Pittsburgh.”

He had listed preschool education as one of his main goals while running for office in 2013. In 2014, he empaneled a group to assess the situation.

The Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children, a nonprofit serving 10 counties, estimates that 18,195 children 5 and younger live in the city.

Families of four earning $72,750 or less per year qualify for subsidized preschool, according to state guidelines. About 4,286 kids 3 and 4 qualify, but only 2,096 receive it because of a funding shortage.

Preschool education costs Pittsburgh Public Schools $9,200 per child. Leaders must find $20.1 million each year, according to the association and Peduto.

Forum speakers said a key is enrolling kids in quality preschool — those with rigorous curriculums, up-to-date equipment and materials and credentialed teachers with a background in childcare.

About 205 preschools, not counting most religious institutions, operate in the city, and only about 16 percent of them are rated by the state as high quality.

“The elephant in the room is we need more money,” said Chad Dorn, director of data and evaluation for the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children.

Cara Ciminillo, the association’s executive director, agreed with Peduto that it would take multiple sources of money.

“There is no one answer,” she said. “The state’s not going to fill the hole. You need a mix of funding streams.”

Philadelphia recently enacted a controversial 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks such as soda — on top of an 8 percent sales tax — to pay for preschool education.

Other cities have floated “social impact bonds,” money raised from the private sector for services such as preschool that is repaid through government savings realized over time from social programs.

Ciminillo said “a slew” of research shows that preschool graduates, particularly those from low-income families, do much better later in life.


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