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Mapping Project Shows Philadelphia Pre-K Needs, Prompts Funding

Advocates of early-childhood education have long suspected that Philadelphia had a terrific need for investment in public preschool programs. But it wasn't until the at-risk population and its educational venues were mapped geographically that those programs were awarded a total of $1 million to improve facilities.

"We knew anecdotally where the absence of quality was, but we wanted an accurate picture," said Suzann Morris, the assistant director of public policy for the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children, an advocacy organization based in Philadelphia, which conceptualized the maps.

It was hard to identify the need without clear statistics, let alone push for improvement, she added. So the organization asked Azavea, a Philadelphia-based geospatial analysis software development firm, for help.

The company, lead by Azavea fellow Lena Ferguson, crunched data last spring from the organization and from various databases, including the U.S. Census Bureau, to develop points on a handful of maps. Data points such as school locations and homes of at-risk populations were grouped by city council districts, state Senate and House districts and by U.S. Senate and Congressional Districts.

The maps produced showed that a mere 14 percent of the city's 2,000 public programs were considered high quality, Morris said, a designation denoted in part via state assessments. The maps furthermore detailed which neighborhoods needed the most help.

Armed with such evidence, Morris' group presented the maps to the community.

The Philadelphia City Council responded by offering $500,000 to improve facilities for 2,000 children. The Philadelphia-based William Penn Foundation offered a similar sum for such improvements.

Preschool providers are now applying for the money, Morris said.

Moreover, the idea of identifying such needs continues, she said: The William Penn Foundation is now funding a map that will indicate where preschool teachers are needed—and can be found.

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