Phyllis Mundy: Boost funding for home-visiting programs that benefit preschoolers

Phyllis Mundy - Guest columnist | May 22nd, 2016 5:57 pm

As a retired state legislator, I know how powerful the voice of the business community is in getting things done in Harrisburg. Legislators on both sides of the aisle have deep respect for those who create jobs, employ constituents and pay workers family-sustaining wages.

As a leader in the effort to expand early learning opportunities for our youngest children, I long have applauded the work of Pennsylvania’s Early Learning Investment Commission. A group of about 70 business leaders from across Pennsylvania, it advocates for high-quality early childhood care and education programs as a workforce development strategy. ELIC members know that in order for their businesses and our economy to thrive in the long run, state government needs to invest in our children while they experience their most dramatic development – long before they even enter kindergarten.

About 85 percent of the brain is developed by age 3. And while many children are fortunate enough to be born into loving, financially secure households, about 72 percent of Luzerne County children are born into economically at-risk households, and a significant number of those children also are born to young single mothers with less than a high school education.

Research shows that the average 3-year-old from a low-income family demonstrates an active vocabulary of about 500 words, while the average 3-year-old from a professional family demonstrates an active vocabulary of more than 1,000 words. And this disparity only increases as children grow older.

Home-visiting programs – such as Nurse Family Partnership, Early Head Start, Parents as Teachers, and Healthy Families America – provide support to low-income families to promote healthy pregnancies, enhance the development and early literacy of young children, and promote healthy family functioning.

Many studies of various home-visiting programs have shown positive impacts on children’s cognitive development and behavior, higher grade point averages and achievement scores at age 9, and higher graduation rates from high school. A study conducted on the Healthy Families New York program found that, in first grade, children who participated in the program were nearly twice as likely as other at-risk children to be able to follow directions, complete work on time or work cooperatively with others.

Studies also show that these programs are a wise investment! High-quality, early childhood programs such as home-visiting return $7 to $17 for every dollar invested.

About a decade before I retired as a state legislator, I introduced legislation that created a separate line item in the state budget for one of these home-visiting programs, Nurse Family Partnership. However, funding for this line item has not increased to keep up with inflation, or to serve more children, since 2008.

I am so glad that Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed to increase funding for home-visiting programs in this year’s state budget. His proposed increase will help more than 1,900 additional at-risk children get a good start and succeed later on in life – thus strengthening our workforce, our tax base and our future economy.

About 65 percent of children born in Luzerne County will stay here when they become adults. I urge you to ask your state legislators to support home-visiting programs in this year’s state budget to help more of these children become contributing members of society who continue to make our region a great place to live, work and raise a family.

Phyllis Mundy

Guest columnist

Phyllis Mundy, a Kingston resident, is a retired state representative from the 120th Legislative District. She serves as the special legislative member of Pennsylvania’s Early Learning Investment Commission.