First, Mayor Kenney handled the important business: reading a picture book called

My Friends

to a group of spellbound 4-year-olds.

Next, he talked about what he calls one of the biggest priorities of his administration: opening prekindergarten seats to "as many children as we can reach."

Kenney and Pedro Rivera, Pennsylvania's top education official, traveled Tuesday to a Northeast early-childhood education center to tout the recent release of state funds that will pay for 1,500 new prekindergarten seats.

That dovetails with Kenney's yet-to-be-finalized early-childhood plan, whose initial price tag is $60 million and which would, he said, be funded through a combination of city, state, and private money. Details of that should come by March, the mayor said.

The impetus is clear, Kenney said: invest in early childhood now, and spend less on remedial education and even prisons later.

"If we get children a good start - a really, really good start - when they get to kindergarten and first grade, our teachers have the ability to make them blossom," he said.

Stopping in his hometown, Rivera gave a thumbs up to the Kenney education agenda, which places priority on both prekindergarten and community schools, a concept that would cluster social services inside city schools as a way to both serve neighborhoods and bolster academics.

"The governor is especially pleased with the vision for Philadelphia, for investing in early-childhood education," the education secretary said.

Kinder Academy's Rhawnhurst location serves children from ages 6 weeks through 12. The brand-new building was supposed to open in September with more than 130 children.

But the state budget stalemate meant that it was nearly empty, despite enormous demand for high-quality preschool programs across the city.

"We had families ready at the door, ready to come in, but we didn't have the funding," said Leslie Spina, Kinder Academy's executive director.

Gov. Wolf's decision to veto part of the budget sent to him by the legislature but release some emergency funds changed that. The Philadelphia School District will house about 1,000 of the 1,500 seats, and the rest will be spread among providers throughout the city.

Rivera said he hoped any final budget would include even more funding for early-childhood education.

Kenney said the city would take whatever it could from the state.

But, he said, "I can't just keep on pointing to Harrisburg," he said. The city will need to invest real money in the plan, Kenney said.

"We have to put some skin in the game," he said. "If we expect philanthropy and other people to step up, we have to do something significant."

kgraham@phillynews.com

215-854-5146 @newskag

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