March 14, 2016

Penn GSE’s Child Research Center assesses Philly pre-K needs

Philadelphia wants to make pre-kindergarten available to every 3-and-4-year old, regardless of their need or neighborhood. The city has $60 million in state funding, and Mayor Jim Kenney campaigned on making the program a priority.

But as Whitney LeBoeuf — a research associate at Penn GSE’s Child Research Center — recently explained on Knowledge@Wharton Business Radio high-quality pre-k is expensive and slots are scarce. LeBoeuf and the center recently worked with Philadelphia Commission on Universal Pre-Kindergarten to gather information for its draft report.

Philadelphia has about 45,000 3-and-4-year olds, LeBoeuf said. A spot in a quality pre-K program costs about $8,000 annually. That means providing true universal pre-K would cost around $360 million — much less than the $60 million in current funding.

“What do you do when you only have one-sixth of your need?” LeBoeuf said. “That’s where the pre-K commission came to us … and asked ‘how can you help us prioritize these funds?’

“We at the Penn Child Research Center have a whole wealth of research that shows some really big risk factors in early childhood. Lead exposure, we know (and we’re now seeing in Flint), child maltreatment, birth risks, low-maternal education.

“We can find pockets of high concentrations. Up to 50 percent of kids have two or more of these risk factors. They’ve been using that in their draft plan to figure out where they’re going to distribute these resources.”

During the conversation, LeBeouf also discussed how schools, social service agencies, and governments can use integrated data to reach more people effectively while protecting citizen’s privacy.

“Decisions are going to get made, whether they use data or not,” LeBeouf said. “At the very least having this as part of the conversation, and a piece of the decision making process, is providing intelligence improvement.”