Commission releases universal pre-K report

031016_sodatax_1200
Mayor Kenney greets children during a news conference in March at the Rising Stars APM Preschool Center. Kenney is asking for a soda tax to fund initiatives including universal pre-K.

The city's Commission on Universal Pre-K issued its final report to the mayor and City Council this week, with recommendations for how to expand pre-K to 3- and 4-year-olds in Philadelphia.

Many of the recommendations will likely be adopted in Mayor Kenney's final pre-K plan, given that he appointed several of the commission's members, including his own director of pre-K.

The report notes that the majority of the group recommends a sugary-drink tax to bring in the $60 million a year that Kenney says he needs for the program.

The city has overwhelmingly united around the need for expanded pre-K, but a battle is being waged over the proposed 3-cents-per-ounce tax to fund it.

On Wednesday, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, campaigning in Philadelphia, said she endorsed the tax if it would fund early childhood education.

"I'm very supportive of the mayor's proposal to tax soda to get universal preschool for kids," Clinton said. "I mean, we need universal preschool. And if that's a way to do it, that's how we should do it."

On Thursday, Clinton's rival for the nomination, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, said he was against the tax, wich he termed "regressive."

"At a time of massive income and wealth inequality, it should be the people on top who see an increase in their taxes, not low-income and working people," Sanders said in a statement.

The Universal Pre-K commission's report is available online at phila.gov/universalprek.

The commission recommended:

A mixed delivery system, meaning the program should include family and community-based pre-K centers in addition to School District classrooms, which make up the majority of the "quality" spots in Philadelphia.

That priority be given to children in neighborhoods with the highest concentration of poverty and highest risk for poor academic and life outcomes. The commission did not recommend an income cap.

That the city fund 6,500 slots over five years at $8,500 per child. City-funded slots would only go to "quality" centers, rated a three or a four on the state Keystone Stars rating system.

That the release of funding be contingent on providers paying their workers appropriate wages, based on suggested salary ranges in the report.

The report also offers ideas on workforce development, including asking the state to allow teachers in the process of getting certified to work in classrooms where teachers are needed as the program expands.