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Hundreds of free pre-K seats still empty

One month into the program, demand is high.

Mayor Jim Kenney at CORA Services Early Years at LaSalle University last April.Provided

Philadelphia's long-awaited free pre-kindergarten program finally became a reality last month, but because the city is still trying to process the applicants, hundreds of open seats have not been filled.

Within four years, the city school system plans to create 6,500 "locally-funded, quality pre-K seats" by partnering with neighborhood early education centers.

So far, 2,000 of those seats have been created, though 500 remain available, the Inquirer reported.

Demand is high for the remaining seats, but the city is still working to process applicants.

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The program is funded in its entirety by the city’s new tax on sweetened drinks.

The program, called PHLpreK, will also benefit from a $1.8 million research grant from the William Penn Foundation, announced on Monday.

For the first three years, the National Institute for Early Education Researchwill study and track how the program is being implemented to evaluate its impact “on children’s learning and development,” according to the grant announcement.

"The evidence demonstrates that providing access to high quality early childhood education is one of the most productive investments we can make," said Elliot Weinbaum, program director of the William Penn Foundation.

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