The City of Philadelphia will create 6,500 publicly funded, high-quality pre-k seats by FY ’21, funded by the city-wide soda tax — like many government funded programs for kids, it didn’t happen overnight and PCCY helped lead the charge.
After decades of advocacy on behalf of publicly funded early education programs, PCCY organizes a group of ten partners, all eager to accelerate the expansion of publicly funded pre-k across Pennsylvania, to pursue a multi-year investment by the William Penn Foundation. Pre-K for PA Campaign was launched in 2014 creating a demand for increased public investment and paving the way for one of the nation’s most progressive soda taxes to fund universal pre-k.
Pre-K for PA’s strategy to force the conversation in the Pennsylvania campaign for Governor, causes pre-k to become a top tier issue and legislative priority for newly elected Governor Tom Wolf. Between 2014 and 2019, a community of nearly 20,000 supporters, 600 organizations, and nearly 150 Leadership Council members is built. During that time, Pennsylvania invests $145 million in publicly funded pre-k.
The pace and effectiveness of the advocacy around pre-k is palpable, as the issue becomes ubiquitous in the halls of the PA Capitol and in Pennsylvania cities large and small. As pressure for pre-k expansion builds, PCCY is stepping up pressure in Philadelphia.
On May 19, 2015, Philadelphians voted overwhelmingly (80 percent) to create the Philadelphia Commission on Universal Pre-Kindergarten. Its charge: propose a universal pre-k program that provides quality, affordable, and accessible services to three- and four-year-olds throughout Philadelphia.
In 2016, PCCY takes pre-k to the streets of Philadelphia, making access to publicly funded pre-k a top tier issue in the Mayoral race. PCCY persuades all candidates to commit to funding universal pre-k across the city and is front-and-center as Mayor Jim Kenney proposes a soda tax to fund pre-k in his first address to City Council. PCCY is at the table when the Philadelphia Joint Commission on Pre-Kindergarten defines Universal Pre-k, recommends quality improvements, and identifies financing options including the sweetened beverage tax.
During this time, PCCY leads a coalition of advocates in the Our Kids are Worth it! campaign to support the implementation of a soda tax to fund pre-k. The multi-layered campaign is dwarfed in spending by the beverage industry, but prevails when Philadelphia City Council imposes a 1.5-cents-per-ounce tax on June 16, 2016. As part of the compromise legislation that passed, the tax is also imposed on artificially sweetened beverages, such as diet soda. The law becomes effective February 20, 2017, and enrollment of the first 2,000 pre-k slots begins.
The beverage industry doesn’t give up easily, though, and files a costly and prolonged lawsuit in an attempt to hinder Philadelphia’s ambitious plan to give Philadelphia’s youngest children a great foundation of learning, reduce inequality and poverty, and improve Philadelphia schools. PCCY joins the voices for kids, filing an Amicus Brief in support of the tax on beverage distributors.
On July 18, 2019, in a 4-2 majority opinion, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that the city had not violated state law by taxing the distribution of beverages, removing the final hurdle between pre-k and Philadelphia children. With the enactment of the tax and expansion toward universal pre-k, the lives of thousands of children got better and Philadelphia became a better place to raise kids.
A poll commissioned by the Pre-K for PA campaign during that time shows 75 percent of likely voters support increasing funding to expand access to high-quality, publicly funded pre-kindergarten, while 94 percent of voters believe that early education is important.
The 2,000 pre-k seats in Philadelphia will grow to 5,500 by 2023. Those children will be far less likely to become involved with the justice system, more likely to graduate high school, and less likely to need special education—benefits that the City and the District will reap for generations.
Pre-k expansion and upgrading recreation centers were key components of PCCY’s Pledge for Philadelphia’s Children, which then-mayoral candidate Jim Kenney signed alongside members of Council. The fight for pre-k expansion at the state level continues today, with PCCY still at the forefront, pushing for a bold investment to begin to reduce the number of kids missing out on this once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity.