Pre-K, schools concerned over state budget impasse

This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website.
Jeffrey Sparagana, superintendent of the Pottstown School District, speaks of the importance of Pre-K providers and the education it gives children. (Candice Monhollan)

Jeffrey Sparagana, superintendent of the Pottstown School District, speaks of the importance of Pre-K providers and the education it gives children. (Candice Monhollan)

UPPER PROVIDENCE — Almost two months into the state budget impasse, with no end currently in sight, schools and Pre-K classrooms are getting ready to welcome students to the 2015-16 year.

Unfortunately, that welcome comes with a strained smile as the impasse threatens many programs and puts a large toll on school districts across the Commonwealth.

“We typically receive the first of our subsidy payments in August, but that date has come and done,” said West Chester Area School District Superintendent Jim Scanlon. “Because we only receive about 15 percent of our funding from the state, we are still in pretty good shape to start the school year.”

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Though the district will have no trouble opening Aug. 31, the impasse does hit it in regards to charter schools.

“There has been an impact to our charter school payments as we were expected to make those payments in August,” Scanlon said. “Without state funding, we withheld those payments, but we received work last week that the state will deduct payments from our tax-relief allocation, which we were supposed to receive this week.”

Charter schools will cost the district roughly $9.1 million during the 2015-16 school year.

“The state will be deducting the past month’s payments from our subsidy,” Scanlon said. “If all charters applied for the deduction, we will be paying one month’s worth of charter school payments from that $1.8 million in tax-relief funding, or approximately $758,000.”

Pre-K providers are facing the dilemma of whether it can open on time or not.

At Play & Learn in Royersford, Pre-K providers, superintendents and parents gathered for a press conference to urge Harrisburg to pass a state budget.

“The importance of high quality, early education sets the foundation for a lifetime of success,” said Jeffrey Sparagana, superintendent of the Pottstown School District. “After all, the most previous resource in any community is our children, who, of course, are tomorrow’s leaders. It certainly makes sense to invest in our children as early as possible.”

The press conference was held in an empty classroom inside the Pre-K center, highlighting what could possibly happen if an agreement isn’t reached in time.

“What you see here is an empty classroom in a beautiful early childhood center,” said Shawn Towey, from Pre-K for PA. “Most early childhood programs run on razor-thin margins. They need regular revenues to cover their personnel and other costs.”

Pre-K providers are struggling with the dilemma of either having to close down until a budget is passed or open up on time, stringing out what little funds it has, and hoping the impasse won’t go on for much longer.

Patti Klemp, who is the director and owner of Crayon Kids in Norristown, remembers what the impasse in 2009 was like and is worried this will be the same.

“We barely survived in the 2009 budget impasse,” she said as she began to choke up. “I had to empty all my kids’ college funds to keep my school running. We waited for loans and we waited for things. Once you get the loans, yes you get reimbursed, but now you have finance charges and late charges. It’s very tough.”

Research has shown the importance of early, childhood learning and the idea of some of the providers not being able to open is concerning many.

“Our data shows that Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts students enter kindergarten better prepared than the district average for other children,” Sparagana said. “Pre-K Counts students remain at that advantage throughout elementary school.”

Parents are left to worry, not only about their child’s education, but also where they can go during working hours.

“Pre-K Counts is not only about the child — it’s also about the family,” Sparagana said. “Our full-day Pre-K Counts classes mean that many of our families now can hold a job, which they would not be able to afford to do without Pre-K Counts.”

Parents agreed with Sparagana.

“As a working parent of children in the Pottstown School District, it’s of the utmost importance to me for them to have a great education for their future,” said Jonelle Beekley, a parent in attendance at the press conference. “Without the PEAK program, I would not be able to work as many hours as I do (and) would not be able to provide for my children.”

Though Play & Learn is planning to open on time, they are still stretched to the limit as they wait for a hopeful resolution of this impasse.

“We are going to stretch our budget and our resources in order to continue to pay our teachers, to provide our services and keep those children ready to go,” said Melanie Goldhania, director of Play & Learn. “We are in an empty classroom. This is a classroom that asked for additional funding from the state. We have not gotten it.

“The children across the hall are here everyday. Their families can afford to pay the cost of tuition. It’s not fair to the rest of the children…and the inequality that brings. We urge the governor and legislature to get the budget passed so we can serve these children.”

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Categories: Education, Political

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