A panel of educators and public officials agreed on two points this week during an event at the Community College of Philadelphia. They hailed the importance of preschool education and Mayor Jim Kenney’s proposed sugar tax to fund universal pre-kindergarten.
The nonprofit Diversified Community Services sponsored the conference and panel discussion. It was designed to bring awareness of an expansive two–generation approach that simultaneously provides opportunities for and meets the needs of at–risk children and their parents, with conversation focusing more on the youth, particularly those 3 and younger.
The two–generation approach is an initiative sponsored by the Aspen Institute, an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C. It addresses five broad areas: early childhood education, economic assets, health and well-being, post-secondary and employment pathways, and social capital.
Anne Gemmell, director of the city’s universal pre–K office, joined Councilman Kenyatta Johnson and state Rep. Jordan Harris as panelists.
Gemmell said the city would use the funds from the soda tax to implement a program using many of the components of the two–generation approach.
“I would love to come up with the funding for a two–generation strategy. The evidence is there, the buy–in is there and there’s people willing to do the work well, but we need some partners at the state level,” she said. “And we need to elect the president who will be a champion for quality childcare nationwide.”
“In terms of opportunities for implementing this, when we first launched Pre–K for PA, which was a statewide advocacy campaign in 2013, we got a lot of tough conversations with the early education community and experts, saying we could not leave out the babies; they would not let us forget about the 0 to 3’s,” Gemmell said.
“Our argument was there is always politics involved in this and, right now, the conversation in Pennsylvania, and in the city for that matter, is the K–12 system,” she said.
“We had to hook the train to where the media and political conversation was, which as K–12,” Gemmell added. “So, pre–K was sort of looked at in the media as the beginning of the K-12 train, but on the inside, it’s the engine that drives the whole early education system…the reality is, the pre–K initiative, if we are successful in securing the sugary drink tax from City Council, will help pay for pre–K, and those funds will help stabilize the entire system of early childhood education.”
Everyone is not on board with the tax, however.
Philadelphians Against the Grocery Tax Coalition member Atif Bostic, who is the executive director of UpLift Solutions, a nonprofit that brings grocery stores into low–income neighborhoods, said the tax would affect Philadelphia’s poorest communities the most and discourage stores from opening in food deserts across the city.
“This tax proposal is unfair not just to neighborhood businesses but to our poorest communities,” Bostic said. “The administration has admitted that this tax would fall disproportionately on low–income families. This proposal would make it more difficult to improve access to groceries to our poorest neighborhoods because it would substantially increase the cost of doing business for everything from the neighborhood corner store to the large supermarket.”