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PHLpreK: A Beautiful Gift for Mother’s Day

By Mariah Johnson Skibber, Philadelphia, PA

Every year, we’re inundated with gift ideas for Mother’s Day. Truth is, moms are simple. Give us happy and healthy kids, safe neighborhoods, and good jobs…and we really don’t need much more than that. That’s why this Mother’s Day, I’m grateful for the soda tax. 

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Not that I’m happy about having to pay more for soda—who’s ever thrilled about a tax? Certainly not the highly profitable soda industry, who has pushed the cost of their tax onto the backs of Philly families like mine. But I’m happy to pay it because I know how much of it the City collects and what it’s for, as opposed to the myriad of other taxes we get dinged for.

Fixing parks and libraries, restoring playgrounds, and adding high quality pre-K seats, are all things Philly moms can relate to. Pre-K, especially, resonates with me because I’m a pre-K teacher and I know what a difference it makes to a child.

In fact, if it wasn’t for the soda tax, or ‘sweetened beverage tax’, it’s really unlikely that my four-year-old son Cairo would be sitting in a quality pre-K classroom right now because I wouldn’t have been able to afford the $800 a month cost and state-funded Pre-K Counts classrooms, like the one I teach, are full.

Philadelphia’s sweetened beverage tax has funded thousands of new slots in high-quality pre-K programs. About 4,000 kids have graduated from or are currently enrolled in these programs thanks specifically to revenue from the tax—with new slots expected to open next year. And when more kids are going to school, more teachers are needed to help them learn. Hundreds of teachers have been hired citywide to meet the increased demands, with approximately two-thirds of these programs being owned by women and minorities.  

For most children, pre-K provides their initial exposure to school and sets the tone for their entire educational career. Research shows that there are many benefits to high-quality pre-K for both children and their communities. Children who participate in these programs require less special education and are less likely to repeat a grade or need child welfare services. Once these children enter the labor force, their incomes are higher and they are less likely to engage in criminal activity. Pre-K is especially beneficial to dual-language learners, many of whom come from low-income families. Pre-K programs can increase their English proficiency and develop literacy and math skills that last into adulthood.  

The tax is also working well from a health standpoint. In the United States, 40,000 deaths every year are attributed to heart problems caused specifically by consuming too many sugary drinks. The potential harms for children, who consume an average, of more than 30 gallons of sugary drinks a year—including sports drinks, fruit-flavored drinks and soda.

Research shows that the tax is also working as intended to reduce consumption of soda and other sugary drinks. A study from Mathematica Policy Research found that:

  • Kids who drank about 20 oz of soda a day prior to the tax--about 15 times the recommended limit--dropped their added sugar consumption by 22 percent in the year following implementation.
  • For adults, the tax reduced consumption of regular soda by roughly one fewer 20-ounce soda every three days.
  • Among African American adults, the tax reduced the frequency of regular soda consumption by 14.6 times per month—the equivalent of nearly one fewer 20-ounce soda every other day.  

With these kinds of results after only a few short years, it’s hard to understand why anyone would criticize this tax, beyond including in their general grumblings about the rising cost of, well, everything. If you’re a beverage industry executive, I guess you care more about profit than the health of kids and families.

But Moms feel differently. Thanks to PHL Pre-K classrooms, I’m one of thousands of Philly moms who doesn’t have to worry if their child is getting what he needs to thrive.

This Mother’s Day, I’m celebrating the gift of a healthier, stronger community, thanks to the soda tax.  I’m not alone.

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