Pennsylvania is starting a new fiscal year today without a spending plan, after Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a budget bill sent to him yesterday by the General Assembly. While the governor and legislative leaders are back at the negotiating table, here’s a recap of where things stand on several issues that impact the commonwealth’s kids …
One area of agreement is the need to increase funding for high-quality pre-k, though the amount of the increase remains to be determined.
Gov. Wolf had proposed increasing funding for Pre-K Counts by $100 million and the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program (HSSAP) by $20 million – investments that would allow an additional 14,000 of Pennsylvania’s 3- and 4-year-olds to benefit from high-quality pre-k in the coming school year.
The budget approved by the General Assembly includes an additional $25 million for Pre-K Counts and another $5 million for HSSAP, which would increase access to an additional 3,500 children and marks a positive step forward.
An increase in pre-k funding is badly needed, given more than 200,000 of our 3- and 4-year-olds lack access to high-quality pre-k. The more we can invest now, the more children we can reach with this once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity that has been shown to save money in the long run.
This is another area where all sides agree more money is warranted, but they haven’t yet agreed on how much.
The budget lawmakers approved includes an additional $100 million for basic education funding, though the governor is seeking an increase of $410 million. And while lawmakers approved an increase of $20 million for special education, Gov. Wolf wants a $100 million increase.
There also appears to be growing support for the funding formula developed by the Basic Education Funding Commission – a formula that includes many of the critical elements necessary to ensure all students have a chance to succeed no matter where they live. That’s hopeful news for students and taxpayers.
The vetoed spending plan would have made severe cuts to county child welfare funding, reducing county funding by nearly $132 million from last year. This is a troubling development given the bipartisan efforts we’ve made in recent years to better protect children from abuse and neglect.
Pennsylvania enacted 23 new child protection laws in the past two years and one more bill (HB 1276) just passed the General Assembly with overwhelming support. We already are seeing an increase in the number of child abuse reports. This means larger county caseloads and the need for more resources, not fewer, so a spending cut is heading in the wrong direction. We’re hopeful this will be addressed in budget negotiations.
A bill (HB 857) reauthorizing Pennsylvania’s CHIP program for two more years (extending it through 2017) awaits a final Senate vote after the House unanimously approved it in April. Given the longstanding, bipartisan support for CHIP since it was launched more than 20 years ago, we expect this bill to be enacted without any issues. The deadline for passage is Dec. 31, 2015.
We’ll keep you updated in the days ahead on how budget talks are progressing and how you can help us speak up for Pennsylvania’s children.
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