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

You Need Quality Teachers to Have Quality Pre-k

Today is Teacher Appreciation Day, a great time to recognize the critical role teachers have in student success – a role that begins in a child’s earliest years.

The Pre-K for PA campaign is working to ensure high-quality pre-k is available to every 3- and 4-year-old in Pennsylvania. A core ingredient of high-quality pre-k programs is degreed teachers with early childhood training. (In Pennsylvania, such programs include Pre-K Counts, Head Start, private academic nursery schools, STAR 3 and 4 child care programs and pre-k operated by public schools.)

Fortunately, all publicly funded pre-k programs in Pennsylvania require teachers to have college degrees and early childhood training. Unfortunately, only about 1 in 6 of Pennsylvania’s 3- and 4-year-olds have access to publicly funded, high-quality pre-k.

Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed an additional $120 million in pre-k funding for fiscal 2015-16 that would allow about 14,000 more young learners to benefit from publicly funded, high-quality pre-k. This investment would increase access from 1 in 6 of Pennsylvania’s 3- and 4-year-olds to about 1 in 4. It’s a big step in the right direction, but Pennsylvania will need multiple years of increased investments to reach the goal of making high-quality pre-k universally accessible.

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Keeping A Focus on Foster Care

In Pennsylvania, there are about 14,000 children and youth in foster care on any given day. May is National Foster Care Month, a time to acknowledge those who do so much to help these children and youth find permanent, safe and nurturing homes.

Our recent State of Child Welfare report found that Pennsylvania’s foster care population has begun increasing in recent years, an increase likely fueled at least in part by an increased awareness of child abuse and neglect. As new child protection laws take effect and more children are removed from unsafe or unhealthy environments, the need for foster care is likely to keep growing.

Of course, saving a child from an unsafe or abusive environment is only half the challenge. We also need to do our best to make sure each child ends up in a safe, supportive “forever family.” And that means we must pay close attention to our foster care system to ensure it has the resources needed to adequately and appropriately help every child it serves.

The State of Child Welfare report noted two areas where improvements can be made:

  • Children in foster care who have a court-ordered goal of a permanent living arrangement sometimes never reach that goal. Many age out of the foster care system between ages 18 and 21 without ever finding a permanent family upon which they can rely. Looking ahead, Pennsylvania needs to strengthen its efforts to ensure foster care is a pathway to finding a “forever family” for every child.
  • State policymakers should examine ways to better provide educational stability to children and youth in foster care, who often face school challenges due to foster care placements. Education interruptions and school changes make it hard for many of these children to succeed academically.

And to all the foster parents, supportive family members, policymakers, child welfare professionals, volunteers and others who do so much to help children and youth in Pennsylvania’s foster care system, we thank you for your invaluable efforts.

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REMINDER: Early Childhood Action Day is May 12

Early learning advocates from across Pennsylvania will converge on the state Capitol on Tuesday, May 12, for the annual Early Childhood Action Day. If you haven’t already registered to attend, there’s still time.

On action day, scores of early learning professionals, parents, advocates and supporters make the rounds at the Capitol to deliver the message to state legislators that high-quality early childhood education must be a priority issue. Attendants will visit one-on-one with state legislators and host an afternoon rally in the Capitol Rotunda.

If you are unable to attend in person, you can still speak up for early learning investments by taking part in Virtual Action Day.

Whether you join us in person or online, please sign up and speak up for the need to invest in early learning!

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Happy Kindergarten Day

It’s been roughly two centuries since German educator Friedrich Fröbel pioneered the idea that young children were like plants in a garden who would thrive with the proper mental and emotional nurturing. Thus was born the idea of “kindergarten.” Fröbel was born on this date in 1782, so April 21 is now designated as “Kindergarten Day” in his honor.

Since Fröbel’s time, we’ve come to understand how much a child’s brain develops in the critical years before kindergarten. Decades of research has shown that high-quality pre-kindergarten prepares young learners for success in kindergarten and beyond.

Perhaps that’s why a majority of Pennsylvania voters across party lines strongly support increasing the availability of pre-k. Yet only about 1 in 6 of Pennsylvania’s 3- and 4-year-olds benefits from publicly funded, high-quality pre-k. We can do better for our kids and our commonwealth.

Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed increasing investments in high-quality pre-k by $120 million in fiscal 2015-16, including an additional $100 million for Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts and a $20 million funding increase for the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program (HSSAP). These are strong steps toward ensuring every 3- and 4-year-old in Pennsylvania has access to high-quality pre-k.

You can help ensure these investments happen by joining us in the statewide, nonpartisan Pre-K for PA campaign and letting your elected leaders know you want smart, effective investments to help ensure every child arrives in kindergarten with the strongest possible foundation to learn for a lifetime.

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Preventing Child Abuse Through Home Visiting

With April being National Child Abuse Prevention Month, it’s fitting that President Obama signed legislation on April 16 to extend federal funding for the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program for two more years.

What does MIECHV have to do with child abuse prevention?

There are sometimes adverse issues in a child’s home - issues like alcohol or drug problems, financial distress, unmet mental health needs and other factors - that can contribute to abuse and neglect. Evidence-based home visitation services (like those funded through MIECHV) have proven to be an effective means of addressing risk factors like these, lessening the risk of child maltreatment.

The federal funding given to Pennsylvania through MIECHV has allowed the commonwealth to provide evidence-based home visiting services to about 2,300 children a year who would not have been served otherwise. The legislation signed by the president this week provides about $400 million in MIECHV funding to the states for each of the next two fiscal years (Pennsylvania received $13.7 million in MIECHV funds in fiscal 2014-15). Without the legislation, MIECHV funding would have ended this year.

We’re pleased to note that every member of Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation voted for this important legislation, and they deserve thanks for their support of MIECHV. Many of you also deserve thanks for joining us in signing a letter earlier this year urging Pennsylvania’s federal lawmakers to support MIECHV funding.

Working together, we got it done – and Pennsylvania’s children are better off because of our collective efforts.

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CHIP Wins in Harrisburg, Washington

It’s been a good week for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), with legislative victories in both Harrisburg and Washington, D.C., that will help keep about 150,000 Pennsylvania kids insured.

Last night, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill that extends federal CHIP funding for another two years, through September 2017. The measure, which previously passed the U.S. House, now awaits the president’s signature. (UPDATE: President Obama signed this measure into law on April 16.) Pennsylvania’s two senators – Democrat Bob Casey Jr. and Republican Pat Toomey – both voted for the measure, as did the commonwealth’s entire House delegation.

Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children would have preferred to see CHIP funding extended for four years, a time frame that would align with CHIP reauthorization deadline of September 2019. But we are still pleased to see federal lawmakers have at least averted a potential short-term funding crisis that could have jeopardized CHIP coverage.

At the state level, the Pennsylvania House Insurance Committee earlier this week unanimously approved a bill (House Bill 857) that reauthorizes Pennsylvania CHIP through Dec. 31, 2017. The commonwealth’s CHIP is currently set to expire at the end of 2015 if not reauthorized, and we are hopeful this legislation will quickly make its way to the governor’s desk.

CHIP has received strong, bipartisan support from Pennsylvania’s elected leaders since it was launched more than two decades ago – support that was evident in this week’s votes. We thank all of those who voted to keep CHIP going to help keep Pennsylvania’s kids insured.

You can learn more about CHIP in PA at our website.

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Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children gratefully acknowledges the support of the following funders:

The Hershey Company

Highmark Blue Shield

The PNC Financial Services Group

 

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Pre-K for PA Celebrates ‘Week of the Young Child’

Supporters of the statewide, nonpartisan Pre-K for PA campaign* are marking the Week of the Young Child by hitting the halls of the Capitol to urge stronger state investments in high-quality pre-k. 

Week of the Young Child is an annual celebration sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) celebrating early learning, young children, their teachers and families. To kick off the week, parents and early learning educators who are part of the Pre-K for PA “Capitol Caravan” visited the Capitol to make the case for pre-k investments.

Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed increasing investments in high-quality pre-k by $120 million in fiscal 2015-16, calling for an additional $100 million for Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts and a $20 million funding increase for the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program (HSSAP).

These investments are sorely needed if Pennsylvania wants to fully tap into the broad fiscal, education and social returns on investment that high-quality pre-k provides. Currently, only about 1 in 6 of Pennsylvania’s 3- and 4-year-olds benefits from publicly funded, high-quality pre-k. We can – and should – do more to ensure all young learners have the opportunity to benefit from it.

Can’t visit Harrisburg to make the case for pre-k in person? That’s OK, there are still several ways you can make your voice heard. Visit the Pre-K for PA “Minute to Win It” page and see how you can support this effort.

* Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children is a proud founding member of the Pre-K for PA campaign.

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Pennsylvania’s ‘Devastatingly Large’ Problem

A new analysis of education funding across the country confirms what many in Pennsylvania already know: When it comes to equitable funding of our public schools, the Keystone State comes up short – way short.

In fact, Pennsylvania has one of the worst education funding gaps in the nation, according to a new report by The Education Trust, an independent national education policy organization. The report found:

  • Pennsylvania has the nation’s third largest funding gap between high-poverty and low-poverty school districts when funding is not adjusted for the needs of low-income students (only Illinois and New York fared worse).
  • When funding is adjusted for the additional needs of low-income students, Pennsylvania falls further in the rankings to having the second largest funding gap (behind only Illinois).
  • Pennsylvania’s state-level share of school funding tied for fourth lowest in the nation.

Overall, the report called education funding inequities across the nation “devastatingly large,” and cited Pennsylvania’s as among the worst.

These findings underscore the urgent need for the commonwealth to find a better way to fund our public schools. Part of the solution needs to be a sustainable, predictable and student-driven formula for funding basic education. (Right now, Pennsylvania is one of only three states that lacks a predictable formula for basic education funding.)

If you agree that Pennsylvania can and should do better, sign up for email updates from the Campaign for Fair Education Funding. This statewide, nonpartisan campaign was launched last fall (with Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children as a founding member) to help ensure every public school student - regardless of zip code - has the resources necessary to succeed in school and beyond.

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A Few Seconds That Could Save a Child

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, so we’re going to begin the month by asking you to take a few seconds to do one simple thing …

Put this number into your phone contacts: 1-800-932-0313.

It’s a toll-free number for ChildLine, Pennsylvania’s child abuse hotline. The line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and reports can be made anonymously.

Once the ChildLine number is in your phone directory, pass the number along to friends, family and colleagues who might not have it in their phones. Remind them that anyone can (and should) report suspected child abuse or neglect.

It’s our collectively responsibility to help keep all children safe from harm.

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Better Child Protection Laws And Foster Care Challenges

Our latest State of Child Welfare report, out today, underscores how Pennsylvania’s much-improved child protection laws are leading to an increased use of foster care as more abuse and neglect is reported and more children are removed from unsafe or unhealthy environments.

In fact, the number of children entering foster care in Pennsylvania has exceeded the number exiting foster care for the last two years in a row, reversing a long-term trend of a decline in the overall foster care population.

While it’s laudable that Pennsylvania has made clear progress in better protecting children, the commonwealth now faces the challenge of making sure the children who have been removed from harmful environments have the services and support they need to thrive. Our foster care system is doing a lot of things right, but there’s also room for improvement.

The State of Child Welfare report notes two areas where improvements can be made:

  • Children in foster care who have a court-ordered goal of a permanent living arrangement sometimes never reach that goal. Many age out of the foster care system between ages 18 and 21 without ever finding a permanent family upon which they can rely. Looking ahead, Pennsylvania needs to strengthen its efforts to ensure foster care is a pathway to finding a “forever family” for every child.
  • State policymakers should examine ways to better provide educational stability to children and youth in foster care, who often face school challenges due to foster care placements. Education interruptions and school changes make it hard for many of these children to succeed academically.

Saving a child from an unsafe or abusive environment is only half the battle. Looking ahead, we also need to do our best to make sure that child ends up in a safe, loving and permanent family and has the support needed to succeed in school and life.

The 2015 State of Child Welfare report, along with county-level child welfare statistics, can be found at porchlightproject.org.

 

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