Mayor Kenney Looks to Strengthen the City’s Commitment to Pre-K With Local Community
On March 16th, Mayor Jim Kenney sat down with prekindergarten providers, teachers and parents for a roundtable discussion at the R.W. Brown Community Center at 8th and Cecil B. Moore. The talk was centered around the city’s PHLpreK initiative, which is funded by the recent Philadelphia Beverage Tax, also known as the Soda Tax. Kenney wanted to hear more about the economic impact that the initiative has had on neighborhood-based pre-K centers and receive feedback on how to strengthen the program.
The PHLpreK initiative is part of a five-year plan, proposed by Mayor Kenney, to enroll 6,500 Philadelphia children in affordable, quality pre-K programs. In its first year, PHLpreK has partnered with 88 pre-K programs across the city. Many of these programs are independently owned by local residents, strengthening the economy of their neighborhoods. At the time of the meeting, 1,800 children had been enrolled through PHLpreK.
Educators, providers, and parents sat around a circle of tables with the mayor. To begin the discussion, participants were encouraged to share success stories or positive experiences resulting from the initiative.
Participants touched on topics such as being able to connect families with jobs and resources, being able to give staff raises and allowing increased healthcare visibility for children under the age of five. Some programs have been able to bring in organizations such as Kids Smile Inc., a nonprofit which provides children in underserved communities with basic oral health care.
Clarence Morris of Amazing Kids Academy LLC said he was “grateful to be able to provide more jobs and prepare children for kindergarten.”
An educator from Catholic Social Services said that their program has 72 PHLpreK spots filled and has been able to give staff much-needed raises.
“Quality pre-K is not babysitting,” Mayor Kenney said. He then told a story about going to Jay Cooke Elementary to observe a kindergarten class. About five of the 20 students in the room were engaged with the teacher and asking questions. At the end of the class, Kenney discovered that those five students had been to pre-K.
Kenney then began to talk about the national political climate and topics such as immigration and the proposed travel bans. He spoke of these policies as policies of fear and speculated on how this fear affects the nation’s children. He told stories of children he had met at political events who are scared of their parents being deported and scared of being deported themselves. “This isn’t how this country is supposed to be,” he said.
An educator in the room voiced her fear that some of her undocumented teachers and staff would be deported.
Kenney went on to address criticism of the soda tax. He talked about threats made by major soda manufacturers, such as laying off thousands of employees as a result of the tax. The mayor voiced his confusion as to why a company with profit margins in the billions each year would have to lay off workers earning an entry-level salary.
Latonta Godboldt, an administrator at Small Wonders FCCH, spoke up against criticism of the tax. “The bottom line is, kids are worth it. It doesn’t matter if it’s 10, 20, 30 cents, if we don’t do these kind of programs, we all end up paying,” she said.
More information about the PHLpreK initiative can be found at: http://www.phlprek.org/ •