MAYOR NUTTER yesterday introduced the members of a new commission tasked with devising a plan to expand the city's high-quality preschool options and fund it.

The city's Commission on Universal Pre-K - overwhelmingly approved by voters in May - consists of 17 members, including five appointed by the mayor and five by City Council. The Rev. Sharon Easterling, head of the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children, and Loretta Sweet Jemmott, vice president of Health and Health Equity at Drexel University, will serve as co-chairs.

Advocates say research shows early childhood learning is critical to making sure children start school prepared.

"The surest pathway out of poverty is education, but the achievement gap is so wide for so many children that they will never catch up," Easterling said. "High-quality early childhood education is a game-changer, but we have to find a way to serve more than 25 percent of our kids."

The commission will hold monthly meetings, gather public input and submit a final report with recommendations to the mayor and City Council in April. Among the questions it must tackle are how much it costs to provide high-quality preschool, what kind of training is needed and how long it would take to implement a citywide plan. But the biggest question of all, Easterling said, will be how to pay for the plan.

"If we don't have the details that are needed to put the money on the table, then it's not a very useful plan," she said.

The commission will work until its recommendations are adopted by City Council and the mayor.

In addition to Easterling and Jemmott, the other commission members are: Councilwomen Jannie Blackwell and Blondell Reynolds Brown; Catherine Blunt, former principal; Miriam Calderon, Commonwealth Foundation; Diana Castelbuono, School District of Philadelphia; Donna Cooper, Public Citizens for Children and Youth; city Finance Director Rob Dubow; Jennifer Duffy and Pheng Lim, school principals; Michelle Figlar, Pa. Department of Education; Vanessa Garrett-Harley, commissioner of the city's Department of Human Services; Deputy Mayor and Commerce Director Alan Greenberger; Reuben Jones, Frontline Dads Inc.; and Lisa Nutter, Philadelphia Academies Inc.