Kenney celebrates 2 years of free pre-K, says program helps kids succeed

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Mayor Jim Kenney and city officials are celebrating the second birthday of free pre-K in the city. He's taken a lot of heat over the soda tax, which funds the program, and says it's all worth it because of the progress he's seeing. 

On Friday, Kenney toured Inside Your Child's World, a preschool in Elmwood, and said the program is going about as well as he hoped it would.

"It's really been very rewarding for me to see these young children, these perfect little babies, grow and learn," he said.

He said the quality of education the kids are getting there is preparing them for kindergarten.

"It's critical," he said, "because if our children are not reading by third or fourth grade, at grade level, the odds of them graduating high school are slim to none."

He maintains that the best way to end poverty is to make sure everybody has a good education from the very beginning. He told a story to explain how initiative is working.

"It was the first day of kindergarten," the mayor said. "It was like a 23- or 26-kid meltdown, with kids holding on to their mom's ankles and necks, not wanting to go and hiding under desks. And there were five kids sitting there with their hands folded, sitting erect at their spot. At the end of the class, I asked "How many of you guys have gone to pre-K?" And five of them raised their hand. I knew they were ready. They didn't have to catch up."

Margaret Cobb is noticing a difference in her 3-year-old after just a couple of months, thanks to the good teachers at the school.

"He's still a typical three-year-old, but I do feel like he's more focused when we're at home. When I sit down with him to count and read and stuff like that, it's a little bit easier," Cobb said. "They're helping me build some type of structure to teach him at home, too."

Kenney says not only are kids getting a good education, but free pre-K is also providing jobs.

"Most of our businesses are owned by women, by women of color, and people are employed at a living wage," he said. "I think our average wage is $16-something an hour."

He says soda tax revenue was about 15 percent below projections, but that's to be expected in the first year of a new tax and it still brought in nearly $80 million.

"We have enough to do what we're doing. We scaled back a little bit," Kenney said.