The Philadelphia pre-K program is a critical piece in alleviating poverty

| By: Nijah Newton-Famous

“To meaningfully change the academic outcomes of our schools, the single most important investment we can make is in quality pre-K.” – Mayor Jim Kenney

The growing body of education research indicates that children, especially those in poverty, benefit greatly from attending pre-kindergarten. Specifically, children who attend quality childcare and pre-K programs are more likely to graduate from high school, secure employment, and even own a home one day. Yet in 2015, only one in three of Philadelphia’s 3-4 year olds had access to affordable quality pre-K. The programs focus on different age groups, have different eligibility requirements (some have long wait lists) and if you are approved, it may be challenging to find a quality childcare center near you that has the slots available.

In 2016, the City of Philadelphia, under Mayor Jim Kenney, joined the growing movement to enroll more children into quality pre-K programs. The PHLpreK program added 2,000 quality seats to the ECE system in January 2017. Now entering the second year of the program, it is well on its way of meeting its goal of creating 6,500 locally-funded pre-K seats by fall 2020. BDT is proud to partner with the Mayor’s Office of Education (MOE) on effort to engage parents, families and community members to ensure that all Philadelphia’s children enter school prepared to learn and succeed. Now in its second year of the program, BDT staff screens parents and caregivers for eligibility for PHLpreK, as well as Pre-K Counts, HeadStart, Early HeadStart, and CCIS over the phone, submits the various applications on their behalf, and supports them in selecting a quality childcare center near them. To date, the Call Center has received more than 7,653 calls, made 775 referrals to HeadStart, and submitted over 3,476 childcare applications.

BDT has helped the MOE re-engineer how the pre-K process works by operating the Quality Child Care Call Center. In the first year of the program, BDT’s staff helped parents and caregivers over the phone enroll their children into pre-K programs. Now in the second phase of the program, BDT has expanded its scope. BDT uses its in-house built Client Relationship Management (CRM) tool to screen and apply families for all the federal, state and local childcare benefits that will support their stability.

The initiative as more than just a push for education—it is one more critical piece of the puzzle in alleviating poverty. In partnership with the Center for Empowerment and Opportunity (CEO) and MOE, BDT was able to intersect the Childcare initiative with the City’s BenePhilly Enrollment Center, also operated by BDT, so that all families can be supported with additional critical federal, state, and local benefits, such as food and heating assistance, that offer stability. In this case, a parent calling in may not know that they are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps). But because BDT has that parent on the phone, and is technologically equipped to do so, we can apply them for the benefit at the same time. Not only does this save the parent the time spent tracking down and submitting a SNAP application, it saves our governments that time as well.

Philadelphia offers a shining example of how to align public services to be more integrated and innovative to truly meet people where they are. The more often city governments and organizations can coordinate these efforts, the more efficiently it will operate. The Philadelphia pre-K initiative is an integral step forward towards creating a childcare system, and social services ecosystem, that makes it easier for families in need to access the support they and their children deserve.

Interested in exploring opportunities to expand pre-K in your city or state? Contact Nijah Newton-Famous.