Philadelphia New Pre-K Program Dependent on Beverage Tax Funds

The City of Philadelphia’s Revenue Department has announced that they’ve collected about $6.4 million in the month of February from the sugary beverage tax. That amount is up $5 million from the first month that the tax was implemented in January of 2017.

While the beverage tax continues to cause controversy among both distributors and consumers, many may not know that the city’s new pre-K program is dependent on the revenue from that tax alone.

There are currently close to 2,000 kids enrolled in the free program within 88 locations around the city.

Deputy Director of Pre-K Mary Strasser says the program has had a major impact on families whose average income is around $34,000 a year, but don’t always qualify for subsidy childcare.

“Mothers and dads are going back to work because they have this great opportunity to have their kids in a safe, educational environment while they’re at work,” Strasser said.

Out of the nearly 2,000 children enrolled, there are about 20 kids in the classroom at the RW Brown Community Center in North Philadelphia.

Director Tiffany Thorpe says the program has given those children opportunities they’ve never had before.

“The kids are going on trips. The kids are learning things. They’re seeing things that they normally wouldn’t see,” Thorpe said. “(The taxes) are paying for books and materials for these kids, educational toys that they wouldn’t have. Technologies…our classes have iPads. You know, it’s things like that that these kids wouldn’t have access to.”

Thorpe made sure to stress the impact the program has not only had on children, but the community as well.

She says parents now have access to resources within the community center such as GED classes and volunteer work. The center has also been able to hire parents of children that attend the class.

Those are just some of the benefits that Strasser wants to shed light on. The city has hired nearly 250 employees at the pre-k sites, and was also able to raise wages for staff.

“The fact that this is an economic engine in some of our poorest communities and neighborhoods is really a wonderful thing,” Strasser said.

Both Strasser and Thorpe believe the negative perception of the beverage tax has the potential to change.

“I don’t think that people would really be upset if they knew that this money is helping us,” Thorpe said.

The city plans to add 1,000 more seats by September of this year, but that amount hangs in the balance due to the lawsuit from the American Beverage Association. However the city plans to stand firm behind their goal of having 6500 kids enrolled over the next five years.

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