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Do we really need government to take more decisions away from parents? This question is being considered right now in Harrisburg.
Governor Ed Rendell proposes $75 million on his “Pre-K Counts” initiative for pre-kindergarten education for four-year-olds, but it unfairly discriminates against existing church-affiliated pre-K programs. It interferes with religious freedom; only aids families in certain geographic locations; discounts parental choice; and costs more.
There are better options for helping children get ready for kindergarten – Senator Mary Jo White’s (R-Venango) pre-K grants proposal now seeking co-sponsors, or the existing, successful pre-K Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program.
Advocates for the Rendell proposal claim that any pre-school can apply for funding, but in order to qualify providers must accept regulations that include those that allow the government to dictate program content. The legislature long ago exempted religious facilities from these types of restrictions to protect the freedom to provide religious education. Catholic pre-schools would have to forego this constitutional freedom to participate in this program.
But that requirement aside, Catholic providers still might be prevented from participating because of First Amendment concerns over the funding mechanism in the governor’s plan that would require direct payments from the government to the school.
The governor’s supporters say every community will be eligible; but, some will be more eligible than others. School districts serving 30 percent or more children free or reduced lunches get priority. So, poor families who happen to live in more affluent school districts will not have the same chance to participate in pre-K programs. Ironically, wealthier families in priority areas could take advantage of the program. With such scarce resources, we need to be sure that those with the most need get aid first. The tax dollars spent for Pre-K Counts are disconnected from those who really need the help – individual families.
In contrast, Sen. White’s grants proposal and the existing EITC program are connected to families in need no matter where they live and only those families with the truest need are served.
Parents are responsible for the education of their children. It is their role to choose the school that best suits their needs, especially during the particularly formative years of their pre-K aged children. The Pre-K Counts program places the decision making with the government, not with parents.
The governor’s proposal unfairly excludes religious pre-K programs from the list of opportunities available to families in need. The other options leave that choice up to the parents, and are therefore the preferred options.
The governor’s $75 million will educate 11,100 students over the space of one year – an average cost of $6,750 or more per child each year. The existing pre-K EITC program in the last three years cost the taxpayers only $15 million while helping 10,935 children, an average per kid cost of $1,370. The EITC program helps families for a lot less money. Imagine what it could do with just a portion of that $75 million.
Urge your legislators to vote “no” on the governor’s Pre-K Counts program. Tell your representative and senator that if Pennsylvania taxpayers are going to make this critical investment in their children, there are smarter, more cost effective ways to do it by supporting a pre-K grants program or by expanding the already successful pre-K EITC. Log on to the Catholic Citizens’ Action Center at www.pacatholic.org to send an e-mail.
PCC Column April 2007 by Amy Beisel, Communications Director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the public affairs arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania.