By Melissa Murray Bailey
I have tried to stay quiet as one silly thing after another comes out of City Hall. Of course, I don't agree with what Mayor Kenney has been doing, but that's the whole reason I ran for mayor of Philadelphia in the first place.
This time, though, I can't sit quietly by. My daughter is not a pre-K pawn!
A couple of days ago, we got an excited email from the director of my daughter's preschool. It is a great preschool, a private, expensive preschool in the heart of Society Hill. All of the students are bound for top kindergartens, both private and public.
The email said that our school had been selected to particpate in the mayor's "Moving-up Day." The children will sing a song - "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah Pre-K Is Great" - and they will get T-shirts, backpacks, and books. And I am sure local media outlets will report on the event and at some point in the coverage ask, "Wouldn't it be great if all 5-year-olds in Philly could be graduating from pre-K like these children?"
Yes, it would be amazing if all kids had access to great public education, but this is not what universal pre-K would look like in Philly. This is what expensive, private education looks like.
Now, I don't mean to take anything away from our preschool or the kids, but this is politics at its worst. This is using kids to drive a political agenda.
The kids from Schwartz Preschool are excellent for this purpose. They will look adorable, speak in coherent sentences, and belt out the lyrics to that ridiculous song. They can read and write. Yes, they have all had the opportunity to attend pre-K, but you know what makes them stand out? Parental involvement and check-writing. Checks for the outdoor garden, for macaroni and cheese days, and, just last week, I had to buy her art.
My daughter has a three-tier bookshelf filled with books - and my husband and I read to her every single day. We have a babysitter who takes her to a museum and the library every Monday. This is not the life of the 200,000 children living in poverty in Philadelphia, and it is a lie to pretend universal pre-K funded by a soda tax will look anything like this experience. The math doesn't add up.
I'm also pretty sure these kids don't need any more books, and they are likely to get brand-new backpacks for the first day of kindergarten. Why not extend this opportunity to the kids who really need it? The kids who live in neighborhoods where politicians don't go, and whose parents will need to work extra hours to get them their school supplies. Is it because the picture won't be as compelling?
How will we tell the kids coming from the "top notch" pre-Ks created by the soda tax that when they get to kindergarten, they won't have nearly the resources, infrastructure, or teacher attention they had in pre-K?
This pre-K proposal is all a distraction, smoke and mirrors, so that the people of Philly won't notice that the mayor is not doing anything for K-12 education. He's not cutting waste in city government so that School District Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. has the resources he needs to fund an education plan that will deliver results for our city.
We need principles over politics. So, no, you cannot use my daughter as a pre-K pawn!