Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney discusses his pre-K legacy: ‘We had all the parents’



This story is featured in Chalkbeat’s 2023 Philadelphia Early Childhood Training Guide on efforts to improve outcomes for the city’s youngest learners. To maintain up with early childhood education and learning and Philadelphia’s public faculties, sign up for our totally free e-newsletter below.

When Mayor Jim Kenney is feeling frustrated, he claimed, he has a guaranteed decide-me-up: He goes to go to pupils in a regional prekindergarten.

“When I get seriously down, and depressed, and disgusted, and loads of other adjectives, I go agenda a pre-K stop by,” Kenney advised Chalkbeat in a candid job interview executed in the course of his final weeks in office. “It’s like my salvation.”

Together with overseeing the school district’s return to community regulate soon after 17 many years underneath condition authority, Kenney regards the institution of PHLpreK, which lets countless numbers of 3- and 4-yr-olds in the city to go to prekindergarten totally free of cost, as 1 of the significant legacies of his two conditions in workplace.

“I consider the only way out of poverty and into a prosperous lifestyle is training,” he explained, by way of describing his dedication to the concern. Giving structured courses for 3- and 4-year-olds, he stated, “sets the tone for the relaxation of their educational expertise.”

As policymakers take into consideration how to overhaul the state’s college funding program to make it fairer for districts like Philadelphia’s, Kenney also pointed out that the town greater its contribution to the faculty district by $1.5 billion through his tenure.

This 12 months, far more than 5,000 young children are enrolled in PHLpreK, in accordance to a report from Kenney’s business office. Considering that its inception in 2017, more than 17,000 youngsters have handed via the method and more than 500 new lecturers have been employed to operate in PHLpreK school rooms, the report reported.

Building free of charge, superior-top quality prekindergarten extra available helped mother and father and caregivers of young small children keep down work opportunities, Kenney mentioned, which in switch lowered poverty and led to more stable people – in by itself an significant issue in marketing faculty readiness.

While there is not investigation on PHLpreK’s influence that tracks students who experienced obtain to early childhood schooling as opposed to those who did not, Kenney claimed third grade studying scores went up 3 proportion factors final yr in district schools. Those people 3rd graders were being the initial course of children who had obtain to PHLpreK.

To be positive, that maximize is modest. The district set a aim for 62% of third graders to rating proficient on the state examination by 2026. But in the 2022-23 faculty 12 months, only 31.2% of third graders scored proficient or earlier mentioned on their point out tests.

Beyond the figures, Kenney cites anecdotal evidence that PHLpreK is obtaining an affect. He enjoys to notify the tale of traveling to a kindergarten on the first day of college. “It was a catastrophe,” he explained, with children bawling and clinging to their mothers — except for two young ones sitting placidly in their seats, fingers folded in front of them.

“I mentioned to them, ‘Did you go to pre-K?’ They did. They realized just what to do,” Kenney recalled. “There was no finding out curve.”

To get totally free pre-K accomplished, Kenney fought off the soda industry, which put in hundreds of thousands making an attempt to get rid of the sweetened beverage tax he proposed to fund the plan. (The Metropolis Council authorized the 1.5 cents-for every-ounce tax on all those beverages in a 13-4 vote in 2016.)

“They hired just about every lobbyist in the universe,” he reported. “But we experienced all the moms and dads. And girls with toddlers strapped to their chests can be a highly effective drive.”

Kenney mentioned he voted towards the tax two times through his time on the council in 2010 and 2011 when then-Mayor Michael Nutter brought it to the table. Nutter experienced emphasised the wellbeing rewards of lowering soda usage, which did not resonate with the council members at the time.

What adjusted Kenney’s mind? If he preferred absolutely free pre-K, he would need to have to set up a sustainable funding resource.

“Once we received sworn in. We’re sitting in my business … and I mentioned, properly, how are we going to pay out for all this things?” Kenney explained.

Having a devoted reason for the tax revenue was enough to influence the council customers to back again the tax.

But in its initially few decades, hampered by an ongoing lawsuit in opposition to the soda tax and diminished point out revenues in the course of the pandemic, the application was slow to roll out and expand. A town controller’s audit in 2017 uncovered some “missteps” with the program’s implementation, together with more than-billing and beneath-enrolling.

But Kenney mentioned he in no way regarded supplying up on the effort and hard work.

“Head down, win or drop,” Kenney mentioned. “I really do not know what we would have completed if we experienced misplaced in court. But we did not.”

The state Supreme Court upheld the beverage tax in a 4-2 vote in 2018. Kenney reported he hopes the application will go on to expand after he leaves.

It’s unclear what the upcoming will keep for the plan when Kenney vacates his position. A spokesperson for mayor-elect Cherelle Parker declined to remark on the application..

Kenney stated he has not had the growth dialogue with Parker’s group nevertheless. But he thinks it’s “politically powerful enough” that “if anyone attempts to acquire it away, I don’t assume that they would get a excellent reception.”

In his waning days as mayor, Kenney has been thinking about what he’ll do future. He said he intends to established off on an ocean cruise the day following Parker is inaugurated. Following that, he’s not positive. But it won’t be public existence.

“I’m completed with it. It is time for people to go on at times,” Kenney mentioned.

He claimed one idea he’s mulling is starting a nonprofit that would elevate revenue to expose town children to a lot more reside arts and tradition courses, he mentioned.

As a substantial university freshman at St. Joseph’s Preparatory College, Kenney explained he and his classmates have been taken on a subject vacation to see the Alvin Ailey Dance Firm and its legendary founder, Judith Jamison, perform at the Walnut Road Theater.

“I went from hating it to imagining, ‘This is attractive. I have hardly ever viewed any one go like that. I’ve never ever witnessed everything like this,’” Kenney claimed. “I truthfully believe that youngsters in the metropolis, who see almost nothing but chaos and damage, [deserve] an chance to do that, to see that there’s wonderful matters in the world.”

Dale Mezzacappa is a senior writer for Chalkbeat Philadelphia, exactly where she handles K-12 educational institutions and early childhood education in Philadelphia. Speak to Dale at [email protected].

Carly Sitrin is the bureau main for Chalkbeat Philadelphia. Contact Carly at [email protected].



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