Experts Say Fayette Must Invest in Early Education Effort

Article excerpt

A quality pre-kindergarten program can help provide children the tools to future academic and professional success, experts said yesterday during a conference in Fayette County.

The return on investing in early childhood education can range from reduced welfare dependency and dropout rates to more students earning advanced degrees and bigger talent pools for employers, they said.

Area business professionals and educators heard that message yesterday at the Fayette 2010 Economic Summit on Early Childhood Investment at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort near Farmington.

"In Fayette County, we would like to have every child start with a competitive edge," said Ron Sheba, education/work force development manager for the Fay-Penn Economic Development Council.

There are challenges to making that a reality, he said, because 56 percent of the county's students live in low-income families and 27 percent of third-graders scored below proficient on the 2009 PSSA reading test.

"We need to address and improve on what we are doing," he said.

Among yesterday's speakers was Dr. Stephen J. Bagnato, associate professor of pediatrics and psychology at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Bagnato, the author of a recent study evaluating Pre-K Counts from 2005-09, said children who participate in such programs are ready for and succeed in kindergarten.

Pre-K Counts, a program established by the state Department of Education, is designed for children at risk of school failure, including youngsters in families earning 300 percent of the federal poverty level or less and children who speak English as a second language or have cultural or special needs.

For the 2009-10 school year, Pennsylvania Pre-K budgeted $86.4 million to provide programs to nearly 12,000 3- and 4-year-olds. At the start of the school year, nearly 8,000 eligible children were on the program's waiting list.

Teachers and parents were trained to record children's behavior over three years, from making friends to teamwork and cooperation, Bagnato said. …