Standing before about 500 3- and 4-year-olds at Franklin Square, the head of Philadelphia's school district made his case for more money for prekindergarten education.

"What we know is that if kids have access to high-quality pre-K, then they're already off to a beautiful start," Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. told the children and more than 200 advocates and providers who packed the square. "Quite frankly, it's the difference between reading at a third-grade level and not. That's a big indicator for us for future success of a child."

The rally was sponsored by Pre-K for PA, a group that seeks to increase state funding for more early-childhood education. The state makes early-childhood education available to less than 20 percent of the state's 3- and 4-year-olds, rally organizers said.

"That number needs to be more significant. It needs to be every single student," Hite said.

Carol Wong, director of Chinatown Learning Center, who has been teaching children for nearly 30 years, said she had seen firsthand the impact of quality early education.

"When children are at that impressionable young age, yes, they need exposure to the academic part but mainly the social part. That's what high-quality pre-K offers," Wong said.