Philadelphia celebrates two years of pre-K

Philadelphia celebrates two years of pre-K

Author: Marco Cerino/Friday, January 4, 2019/Categories: Philadelphia

The City of Philadelphia celebrated two years of offering free pre-Kindergarten classes across the city Friday. Mayor Jim Kenney (D) joined city officials and educators in southwest Philadelphia to mark one of his major social policy achievements in his first term in office. 

Dubbed PHLpreK, Philadelphia has used proceeds from the controversial soda tax to fund new and existing providers, creating 2,250 seats by September 2018. Many of these neighborhood programs help lower-income and working class families who paid hundreds of dollars every month for child care and prepare students ages 3-4 for full-time learning when the bell rings for kindergarten.

“I’m proud of our students and I’m proud of the program’s accomplishments in the first two years,” he said at Your Child’s World, a provider in the Elmwood neighborhood. “PHL’s positive impact on children, families, and the economy will expand as we add 1,000 seats next year and grow to 5,500 PHLpreK seats by September 2022.”

The event gave the mayor’s Office of Education a chance to showcase successes. The program has created over 275 new jobs since the 2017 launch. Thirty-five programs have improved their quality rating, making 81 of the city’s 85 providers STAR 3 or 4 or equivalent. Many of the providers are owned by minorities and/or women, a target group for economic development in Philadelphia. Three-fourths of the families served make 200 percent or less of the Federal Poverty Level. Kenney noted that families who enrolled students can focus on their careers and contribute more in the workforce.

Councilman Kenyatta Johnson (D-District 2) spoke of the importance of early education to child development. Speaking at a converted roller rink where he and Kenney used to skate (in different decades), he praised the mayor for his vision and resolve.

“When we look at the future of this particular city, it starts with this particular program, providing a pathway out of poverty with high quality education,” he said. Johnson mentioned he dropped off his two young children at a similar facility on his way to work.

Feedback has been overwhelmingly supportive of PHLpreK. Parents are nearly unanimously satisfied with enrollment, teachers, and find their children better prepared for kindergarten. 

One parent benefiting is Margaret Cobb, a SEPTA employee whose son attends Your Child’s World. She mentioned day care cost $185 a week prior to enrollment into the program.

“I’m really comfortable with the program and everything that it’s done for me and my family,” she said.

While the program has found success, expansion may not be as straightforward. Kenney noted that soda tax revenues were lagging behind projections by 15 percent but economists suggested that’s acceptable for the first year of a new tax. Over $130 million has been collected as of September 2018 but most of that sits in the General Fund. PHLpreK has spent over $31 million so far, but over three times that amount remains unallocated.  

Marco Cerino a staff writer for The PLS Reporter based in Philadelphia. Have a question, comment or tip? Email him at