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Pa. voters willing to pay more taxes for more pre-K, poll finds

Super majorities of Pennsylvania voters support more state funding for pre-K education, even to the point of paying more taxes, a new survey by Harper Polling finds.

Suhaylah Gilliland, 4, a student in a Pre-K program at a North Philadelphia community center.
Suhaylah Gilliland, 4, a student in a Pre-K program at a North Philadelphia community center. Read moreClem Murray

It's safe to say that pollsters don't often find a super-majority of voters willing to pay more in taxes.

Yet in a new poll to be released Thursday, 64 percent of Pennsylvania likely voters said they would support a tax increase to expand publicly funded preschool education, responding to a hypothetical hike of .01 percentage points in the personal income tax, which would cost an average taxpayer about $50.

The poll was paid for by the Pre-K for PA campaign, a coalition of state nonprofits advocating for early childhood education, and it was conducted by Harper Polling, a Republican firm based in Harrisburg.

"There is a strong consensus among Pennsylvania voters who think that early childhood education is important," said Brock McCreary, president of Harper Polling.

Ninety-four percent of respondents said pre-K helped people live a healthy and productive life. By 75 percent to 18 percent, voters said they supported increased public funding for preschool for children aged 3 and 4. Every demographic group tested backed more spending, though Republicans (57 percent) and conservatives (61 percent) were slightly less supportive.

Advocates are scheduled to release the poll in the state Capitol in Harrisburg Thursday morning, as part of a push to gain support in the GOP-controlled legislature for Gov. Wolf's proposed $40 million increase for pre-K, which would make the classes available for 4,400 new low and moderate-income children. Budget negotiations are intensifying in Harrisburg as lawmakers rush to finish the spending plan before the summer recess.

"No child should be missing out when nearly all residents agree," said Jodi Askins, executive director of Pennsylvania Association for the Education of Young Children, one of the groups in the coalition.

Despite an increase of $100 million in state spending on preschool over the past five years, Pennsylvania ranks in the bottom half, or 18th out of 30, of states that provide public funding for pre-K programs. Statewide, about 106,200 children who are eligible on the basis of family income cannot enroll because there is not enough space in preschool classrooms, according to Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.

To get the results, Harper Polling interviewed 549 Pennsylvania likely voters by landline and mobile phone on May 22 and 23. The poll is subject to a margin-of-error of plus or minus 4 percent.