‘A Running Start Philadelphia’ seeks to improve school readiness beginning at birth
Philadelphia, June 2, 2015 – Mayor Michael A. Nutter, City and early-education leaders announced the launch of the City’s new plan, A Running Start Philadelphia: For Every Child, Birth to Five, with the goal of providing high-quality early learning for all Philadelphia children from birth to age five. A Running Start is designed to ensure the early learning services that currently exist in child care centers and in private homes are of the highest quality—and to expand opportunities so Philadelphia’s families with young children can benefit.
“With this plan, Philadelphia has developed a strategy to support its children and families by building stronger schools to create a more competitive workforce,” said Mayor Nutter. “High quality early learning is a proven way to help people overcome poverty, which is why we need to make it part of every child’s birthright as Philadelphians, as Pennsylvanians and as Americans.”
A Running Start Philadelphia is the latest initiative to grow out of Shared Prosperity Philadelphia, the plan introduced by the City two years ago to address persistent poverty in the city. Shared Prosperity works to coordinate, expand and track efforts in five areas: jobs, public benefits, housing, economic security, and early learning.
Studies show that high-quality early learning is one of the most effective means to help children escape from intergenerational poverty. Last year, only one in four Philadelphia children had access to formal school-readiness opportunities and only 21 percent of the city’s licensed child care programs were identified as high-quality, with relatively few of the best rated programs located in the poorest neighborhoods. About 64 percent of Philadelphia’s children under the age of six living in families that are near or below the poverty line.
A Running Start Philadelphia is designed to help improve those numbers. Among the project’s top strategies:
· Create a one-stop system in which parents and caregivers can determine whether their children are eligible for publicly funded programs and, if they are, easily enroll them.
· Increase public and private funding for capital improvements for early learning centers in low-income neighborhoods.
· Advocate at the state and local levels to require that all publicly funded early learning programs participate in Keystone STARS, the state’s quality rating and improvement system.
· Significantly increase average salaries, tuition support, and professional development opportunities for early learning teachers and staff.
The efforts come at a time of high public enthusiasm for early learning: In a survey of likely Philadelphia voters last fall, more than three-quarters identified “ensuring all children arrive in kindergarten ready to learn” as an important value. And on May 19, an overwhelming percentage of voters, more than 80 percent, supported a ballot question calling for the creation of a city Commission on Universal Pre-Kindergarten.
Studies show that poverty, near poverty, and extreme stress can have detrimental effects on children’s growth and development during the first five years of life. High-quality early learning significantly boosts the likelihood of academic success among low-income students, ultimately leading to higher rates of high school graduation, college attendance and employment.
“Time and again, high quality early learning programs have demonstrated impressive results in helping families gain a foothold in the middle class. That’s why early learning is an essential component of Philadelphia’s anti-poverty strategy,” said Eva Gladstein, Executive Director of Shared prosperity Philadelphia.
Like Shared Prosperity, A Running Start Philadelphia is built on the idea of collective impact. The plan will be implemented by leveraging a number of existing efforts to promote the education, health and well-being of Philadelphia’s children, youth and families. It will support the creation of the commission called for by the voters to develop a plan to provide universal pre-K for three- and four-year olds. And it will establish a local philanthropic collaborative, a partnership among foundations and corporate funders, to ensure financial support for the initiative.
Key to the success of A Running Start Philadelphia will be the creation of a public-private coordinating entity. Guided by both the Mayor’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity (CEO) and the Mayor’s Early Learning Advisory Council (MELAC), the entity will bring together a full spectrum of parents, caregivers, licensed child care providers, educators, advocacy groups, businesses, philanthropists, providers of technical assistance and professional development, and local, state and federal agencies.