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The Case for Early Care & Education in Rural Pennsylvania: A Comprehensive Report

byCharles HollowayonApril 25, 2023

Three powerhouse Pennsylvania advocacy organizations, Trying Together, Start Strong PA, and Pre-K for PA, recently joined forces to shed light on the significant challenges faced by families and educators in rural communities of the Keystone state. In their eye-opening report, “A Snapshot of the Rural Early Care and Education Landscape: Examining data from 13 counties in Pennsylvania,” the organizations explore the multifaceted difficulties these communities encounter in accessing quality early care and education.

Attempting to bridge the gap between rural and urban areas, these organizations share a united vision: every child deserves quality care and education. Trying Together seeks to support high-quality care by providing advocacy and resources for caregivers and children, while Start Strong PA aims at making quality education affordable for children under three. Pre-K for PA, meanwhile, is focused on making high-quality pre-kindergarten education accessible to all 3- and 4-year-olds in Pennsylvania.

The report centers on 13 rural counties in Pennsylvania, characterized by fewer than 291 people per square mile, and thus bearing the brunt of unique challenges. It highlights that many rural communities, despite a higher proportion of working parents and longer commutes, have limited access to quality care and education services. Factors like fewer high-quality options, geographical constraints, higher teacher turnover, a dearth of qualified individuals in the region, and lower family incomes compound this struggle.

Notably, the number of subsidy-eligible children needing care surpasses the licensed capacity in all counties reviewed except for one. The lack of child care providers and the scarcity of services during evening, overnight, or weekend hours further exacerbate this situation. Public funding for childcare and pre-k is insufficient to cover the demand, especially for infants and toddlers. Adding to this, the declining teacher workforce and counties' low median annual earnings ($26,000 and below), makes the rural scenario all the more grim.

Taking these findings into account, the advocacy organizations propose several recommendations. These include substantial investments in early childhood educator wages, comprehensive research on rural child care needs, support for home-based care providers, an increase in infant and toddler contracted slots, an alternative cost methodology for setting subsidy rates, and augmentation of early intervention, mental health, and behavioral health resources.

The report paints a stark picture of the rural early care and education landscape in Pennsylvania, yet, it also delivers a potent rallying cry for policymakers, education advocates, and communities at large to take urgent action. To provide every child, regardless of their geographical location, an equal shot at quality education, the report underscores that investing in early childhood care and education should not be an afterthought, but a statewide priority.

View the full report here.

This solution has been incredibly important to the business of child care as providers require assistance to survive through these challenging business times.

Peter Sloan, Director of AdministrationTrying Together

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