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Focusing on a variety of education, health and youth development issues of importance to children and families in Pennsylvania.

More Child Protection Bills Become Law

Great news to share! The General Assembly and Gov. Tom Corbett this month completed a two-year effort to improve Pennsylvania’s child protection laws.

Last week, the governor signed two more bills that were officially part of the House and Senate child protection packages and based on recommendations of the Task Force on Child Protection. He also signed a third piece of legislation into law that contained a proposal endorsed by the task force. Here’s a recap of the recent activity:

House Bill 435 (now Act 153 of 2014) was signed on Oct. 22. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Dan Moul (R-Adams), establishes new background check requirements for individuals who volunteer with children. Volunteers will be required to submit a state background check and a child abuse clearance statement. If volunteers haven’t lived in Pennsylvania for 10 consecutive years, they will also have to submit a federal background check. Additionally, volunteers and people who work with children in a professional capacity will have to submit updated clearances every three years.

The original bill was amended to eliminate provisions that would have updated associated employment bans for people who work with or volunteer with children. In the alternative, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare and the Pennsylvania Department of Education will have to collaborate over the next year to issue recommendations on how employment ban laws should be improved and ensure parity among child-serving institutions.

Although PPC was disappointed that appropriate limitations on those who work or volunteer with children based on certain criminal offenses and a person’s history of child abuse was not resolved this session, we are happy that the General Assembly did not completely ignore the issue. PPC looks forward to working with policymakers next session to achieve parity in employment bans for those who work or volunteer with child-serving institutions.

Senate Bill 27 (now Act 176 of 2014) was signed on Oct. 22. Sponsored by Sen. Bob Mensch (R-Montgomery), the measure authorizes the exchange of information in suspected child abuse cases between licensed medical practitioners and county agencies. This will enable child welfare agencies to better respond to the health needs of children who are involved in a child abuse investigation or receiving child welfare services.

In addition to these two bills, the Senate earlier this month amended a proposal to address educator sexual misconduct into House Bill 1816, sponsored by Rep. Mike Tobash (R-Schuylkill). The bill, now Act 168 of 2014, prohibits a practice known as “passing the trash.”

This practice occurs when school districts ask employees accused of inappropriate contact with students to resign in exchange for a confidentiality agreement and, sometimes, help finding a new job in a different school district. Pennsylvania is now one of only three states that ban this practice. The original bills to ban “passing the trash” in Pennsylvania were championed by Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) and Rep. David Maloney (R-Berks).

PPC commends the work of our state leaders in prioritizing and advancing more than 20 pieces of child protection legislation in the 2013-14 legislative session.

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An Update on the Basic Education Funding Commission

Pennsylvania’s Basic Education Funding Commission held two more hearings this month to gather feedback on how the commonwealth funds its public schools.

An Oct. 16 hearing in Montgomery County featured testimony from several southeastern Pennsylvania superintendents who called for a new Basic Education Funding formula that, among other things:

  • Addresses both equity and adequacy - and adjusts for student population changes;
  • Eliminates a “hold harmless” funding provision over time to give districts time to adjust to any negative impact;
  • Acknowledges the numbers of tax-exempt properties in a school district and the difference between local property taxes paid by residential properties owners (which bring additional students to the district) and commercial/industrial properties;
  • Includes a factor to account for the cost of living in the district; and
  • Automatically adjusts annually to cover increasing costs, such as health care.

An Oct. 21 hearing included a panel of Pittsburgh-area education leaders who told the commission:

  • When using student enrollment in a funding formula, it cannot be done in isolation.  School districts often continue to have costs associated with students who leave the district to attend private, parochial or charter schools, such as transportation costs.
  • Any efforts to eliminate hold harmless must be carefully evaluated and would be devastating to many districts.
  • A new formula should include costs associated with arts education and athletics.
  • A new funding formula should include a factor on the percentage of commercial properties in the district, which provide local revenues without adding additional students to the district.
  • A new formula should also incentivize our most effective teachers to teach our highest need students.

Upcoming commission hearings are planned for: Nov. 6 in Harrisburg; Nov. 18 and 19 in Philadelphia; Nov. 24 in Lancaster; Dec. 4 in East Stroudsburg; and Dec. 10 in Lancaster. Testimony and videos of previous hearings, as well as details on upcoming hearings, can be found on the Basic Education Funding Commission’s website.

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Voters Strongly Support Pre-K

With Election Day less than two weeks away, a pair of recent statewide polls shows strong voter support for pre-k in Pennsylvania …

  • 63 percent of Pennsylvania voters cite pre-k as either a “top priority” or “high priority” on their list of issues, according to a survey of 800 registered voters conducted last month by Terry Madonna Opinion Research.
  • 58 percent of voters said “improving access to high-quality pre-k programs” should be a priority for the governor in 2015, according to a survey of 700 registered voters conducted this month by Susquehanna Polling and Research.

These latest polls are consistent with a previously released Lake/Bellwether survey, which found 58 percent of likely voters consider pre-k to be a top priority. That poll found particularly solid support for pre-k investments among two important groups of voters: senior citizens and those who were undecided in the race for governor.

One thing is clear as Nov. 4 draws near: Pennsylvania voters want their elected state leaders to prioritize expanding access to high-quality pre-k for every 3- and 4-year-old in the commonwealth.

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Ensuring Educational Stability for Foster Youth

More than 21,000 children and youth lived in foster care during 2013. When these young people were removed from their families and entered foster care, they became our collective responsibility.

Part of that responsibility includes ensuring their educational success, which requires cooperation between child welfare agencies, courts and schools. Unfortunately, this cooperation doesn’t currently exist for all children in foster care, and the Pennsylvania General Assembly has rightfully decided to examine how such cooperation could be improved.

Earlier this month, the House Children and Youth Committee heard testimony from Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children and others on the importance of promoting education stability for children in foster care (the focus of the hearing was on two bills, House Bill 569 and House Bill 973). Promoting education stability means, among other things, making sure children who enter foster care continue attending the same school whenever possible or are immediately enrolled in a different school. School districts are a critical partner in ensuring education stability for children living in foster care, but current federal and state requirements to make sure schools do their part fall short.

To learn more about this issue, you can read recent coverage of the House hearing from the Scranton Times-Tribune and Wilkes-Barre Times Leader.

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The Impact of High-Quality Pre-k on K-12 Learning

A newly released report from the Pre-K for PA campaign underscores one of the many benefits of high-quality pre-k: its positive impact on a child’s K-12 education.

Pennsylvania’s public schools spend a significant amount of time and money helping children catch up when they enter kindergarten unprepared academically and socially. High-quality pre-k helps prepare young learners for kindergarten and has long-term benefits that carry with a child throughout his or her academic career.

As the new report notes:

“In looking at dozens of high-quality programs across the U.S., researchers have identified three primary benefits to K-12 systems based on children’s participation in pre-k: reduced need for special education services, reduced grade repetition, better performance and fewer behavioral problems in school. The direct relationship between quality pre-k and K-12 savings has been recognized by the private sector. The impacts are so pronounced, in fact, that innovative financing models like Social Impact Bonds have been created to fund pre-k.”

Yet the report also notes too few Pennsylvania children have access to high-quality pre-k due to a lack of state investments. You can read the full report on the Pre-K for PA website.

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Check Out Our New ‘State of the Child’ County Profiles

Do you know how your county compares to other Pennsylvania counties when it comes to child poverty, health insurance coverage, educational opportunities and other important measures of children’s well-being?

You can find those answers quickly and easily with Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children's newly updated “State of the Child” profiles. For each of the commonwealth's 67 counties, you can find:

  • Child population and poverty statistics;
  • Information on how many children are uninsured, and how many benefit from coverage through Medicaid or Pennsylvania's Children's Health Insurance Program;
  • Data on how many children benefit from subsidized child care and publicly funded pre-kindergarten programs;
  • The number of children in foster care or receiving other child welfare services; and
  • Academic performance data for school districts, charter schools and cyber charter schools.

Whether you’re a parent, policymaker, journalist, activist, children’s advocate or just someone who likes to stay in the know, our “State of the Child” profiles can help you get timely, reliable information on how Pennsylvania’s nearly 2.8 million kids are doing.

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The Power of Pre-k: The Military Gets It

 

“There are many factors impacting educational achievement. But there is one factor that has been proven to have a crucial impact on children from all backgrounds, and that is high-quality pre-kindergarten.”

That’s a powerful quote from a powerful source: a coalition of more than 450 retired generals, admirals and other senior retired military leaders known as Mission: Readiness. The non-partisan, national security organization issued a new report today underscoring the lifelong benefits of high-quality pre-k.

But the report also notes access to high-quality pre-k continues to be a problem in Pennsylvania. A full 70 percent of the commonwealth’s 3- and 4-year-olds – nearly 209,000 children in all – lack access to a high-quality program, and only about 1 in 6 of those children benefits from publicly funded, high-quality pre-k.

Of course, we can fix this by investing more state funds into high-quality pre-k, which is a goal of the statewide Pre-K for PA campaign (of which Mission: Readiness is a founding member). Such investments not only save money in other areas of the state budget, but they also have benefits for every one of us.

As the Mission: Readiness report puts it:

“High-quality pre-kindergarten programs can help children succeed in school and avoid criminal involvement, opening the doors to college, careers and military service, if they choose to serve. Increasing access to high-quality pre-kindergarten is a key investment in the readiness of our next generation and our future national security.”

 

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New Federal Law Includes Foster Care Improvements

Earlier this month, Congress passed The Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (H.R. 4980), which now awaits President Obama’s signature.

This bi-partisan measure, introduced in June, was a combination of several House and Senate bills intended to address the prevention of domestic child sex trafficking in relation to the child welfare system (H.R. 4058, S.1878), the reauthorization and expansion of the adoption incentive program (H.R. 3205, S. 1876), and improvements to child support (H.R. 1896, S. 1877).

Congress’ action is good news for children and youth in foster care because the act will require states to develop protocols to identify, report and provide services to trafficking victims who were involved with the child welfare system. It also requires states to implement a “reasonable and prudent parent standard” to enable foster parents and other caregivers to make parental decisions regarding health, safety, extracurricular activities, etc. This standard will help ensure children and youth in foster care have greater normalcy in daily activities, and will help streamline decision making versus needing to rely heavily on agency policy and the courts.

In addition to addressing safety and well-being, the new law makes a number of changes to promote permanent families for children and youth. It limits the use of the court-ordered permanency goal of Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA), which too often translates into long-term foster care. Also, the measure reauthorizes and expands the federal adoption incentives program, which provides additional funding to states that successfully facilitate adoption for children waiting in foster care for a family. The changes to this incentive program should help ensure Pennsylvania will continue to benefit from these incentive funds.

For further information, the Children’s Defense Fund has created a helpful summary of the act.

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New Poll Shows Strong Support for Pre-k

Likely voters in Pennsylvania’s Nov. 4 election strongly support access to high-quality pre-k, according to poll results released today by the statewide, non-partisan Pre-K for PA campaign. And that support comes from voting blocs you might not expect.

In particular, the poll found solid support for pre-k investments among two important groups of voters: senior citizens and those who remain undecided in the race for governor.

Sixty percent of voters over age 65 favor ensuring every 3- and 4-year-old in Pennsylvania has access to voluntary, high quality pre-k programs, and 55 percent of older voters favor increasing state funding for pre-k. Among undecided voters, 59 percent favor ensuring pre-k access and 55 percent favor increased funding for pre-k.

The poll of 400 likely voters, conducted by national pollsters Lake Research Partners and Bellwether Research & Consulting, also found strong support for pre-k among all likely voters in general. Overall, 68 percent of those polled favor every 3- and 4-year-old having access to voluntary, high-quality pre-k programs, and 64 percent of likely voters support increased funding for high-quality pre-k.

We know Pennsylvanians are willing to support smart public policy that gets results and has a strong return on investment, so it shouldn't be surprising that most voters are increasingly supportive of high-quality pre-k. Yet only 1 in 6 of Pennsylvania’s 3- and 4-year-olds has access to publicly funded high-quality pre-k, so it’s clear we have more work to do as a commonwealth to ensure this once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity is available to all.

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Grandparents Want High-Quality Pre-K Too

Yesterday was National Grandparents Day, making this a great week to hear from Pennsylvania grandparents who understand the many benefits high-quality pre-kindergarten has on young learners. Kelly, a grandmother and educator from Camp Hill, recently shared this story with the statewide, non-partisan Pre-K for PA campaign:

“Although my children are all now grown, my three grandchildren have absolutely benefited from having the chance to be part of a preschool program before entering kindergarten. They were much better prepared for the structure of the classroom, as well as socially and emotionally ready for elementary school and beyond.

“As an educator, I believe that these quality programs give children the foundation for future school success. We have all seen the research that it is never too early to impact our children with education – learning begins at birth and continues through the preschool years.

“If all the children of Pennsylvania have a chance to receive quality preschool programming, we will build a generation of children who will seek out higher education opportunities and become strong leaders. If we make the investment now in their education, we are investing in the future of our state.”

Kelly is hardly alone. Recent polling shows 60 percent of Pennsylvania's seniors support every 3- and 4-year-old having access to high-quality pre-k and 55 percent favor increasing state funding to make it happen.

Know a grandparent who uses social media? Ask them to use the image below as their profile picture to help us show the strong voter support among grandparents for investing in high-quality pre-k.

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Stay on top of the latest news affecting Pennsylvania's children by following Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children via social media:

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Comments from readers of Blogging4Children do not necessarily represent the views of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.