Gov. Tom Wolf

Gov. Tom Wolf was in Erie on Tuesday to advocate for increased emphasis on early childhood education.

ERIE (TNS) — An additional $30 million in state funding for early childhood education in 2021-22 will provide early learning programs for an additional 3,200 Pennsylvania children this school year.

But the investment isn’t all that is needed to ensure that children from six weeks to kindergarten age have the opportunity for quality education and care, Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday.

Wolf joined local early education advocates, educators and elected officials at the Gilson Child Development Center in Erie to celebrate the increased funding and warn that more needs to be done to provide a solid foundation for later learning.

”It’s not all that we need,” Wolf said. “There’s also a need to figure out how to make this system work better. We need to reinvent and drastically transform this industry. It’s that important.

”We also need to pay our teachers more, tens of thousands of dollars more, in the professional range,” Wolf said, commensurate with the important work that they do.

Early childhood education is the pathway to lifelong learning and family-sustaining jobs, the governor said.

”These are the years a child’s brain is developing, and the investment we make in young children has a huge payoff,” Wolf said. “More children who begin learning early tend to graduate from high school, go on to college and make more money in their careers than their peers. And they tend to give back to their communities.”

Funding for early education and educators is a smart investment for the state’s economy, said Nick Scott Jr., vice president of Scott Enterprises, a major hospitality business in Erie and a member of the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission. The commission is a partnership of statewide business leaders dedicated to improving Pennsylvania’s future through investment in prekindergarten education.

Businesses are scrambling to fill open jobs, and one of the reasons is that parents can’t afford or are on waiting lists for educational programs and care for young children, Scott said.

”Fifty percent of people polled recently said that one reason they can’t come back to work is that they don’t have child care. And the child care and early education industry is seeing (worker) shortages, too,” he said.

Early education jobs are underpaid, and providers can’t compete with Walmart paying workers more, Scott said.

”We don’t monetarily take care of the people who take care of our children,” Scott said. “This business model is broken. In business, if a business model is broken and you don’t address it, you go bankrupt. We don’t want our children to go bankrupt.”

An additional $650 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding will help the state’s early education and child care providers recruit and retain staff and serve even more children, but it’s not a long-term solution, Wolf said.

And even with massive state and federal funding in 2021-22, not all very young children have the opportunity for early learning, he said.

”There are an estimated 106,000 children in Pennsylvania who are not getting any early childhood education,” he said. “And that’s just a crime.”