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

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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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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Expanding the Child Care Tax Credit

Last month, we issued a new School Readiness report that found only 7.5 percent – or less than 1 in 13 – of Pennsylvania children age 0-4 who are in need of child care benefit from high-quality care. In many cases, these young learners cannot benefit from high-quality child care because their working parents cannot afford it.

Last week, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) took a step toward making child care more affordable by introducing legislation to expand the federal child care tax credit.

In announcing his plan, Sen. Casey cited a Pew study of Census Bureau data that found average weekly child care expenses (measured in inflation-adjusted 2013 dollars) rose from $87 in 1985 to $148 in 2013 - an increase of more than 70 percent. Other data demonstrates that the cost of child care for two children can exceed housing costs for some families in Pennsylvania.

But making child care more affordable benefits more than just those young learners and their families. High-quality child care has a ripple effect that ultimately benefits every Pennsylvania taxpayer and bolsters the commonwealth’s competitiveness in a global economy.

When we make child care more affordable, it gives parents more reliable options for ensuring their kids are safe and cared for during the work day. Workers and employers appreciate quality child care because it promotes peace of mind that helps employees focus on their work, making them more reliable and productive.

The bottom line: Sen. Casey’s proposal can help many more families in Pennsylvania afford the high-quality child care that will help their children grow and develop to their full potential and help make Pennsylvania a stronger economic competitor.

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Statewide Campaign Proposes Better Way to Fund Our Schools

The Campaign for Fair Education Funding (of which PA Partnerships for Children is a proud founding member) today proposed a student-driven funding formula for basic education that can help boost student outcomes in all parts of the state by helping to close funding shortfalls, improve equity, and ensure accountability and efficiency.

Pennsylvania is in urgent need of such a formula, in part because we are among only three states that lack a predictable funding formula for basic education. The lack of a formula leaves us with no strategic way to drive resources to where they are needed most to help students.

The formula proposed today strategically directs resources to students and school districts with the greatest needs and provides the investment necessary to enable every child to succeed academically. It is driven by several critical student factors, such as the number of students in poverty and the number learning English; and several school district factors, including local tax effort, school district size and charter enrollment.

With Gov. Tom Wolf set to unveil his first-ever state budget plan on March 3, the campaign is hopeful its proposed funding formula will help improve Pennsylvania’s school funding vision for fiscal 2015-16 and beyond.

The Campaign for Fair Education Funding was launched last year to ensure Pennsylvania adopts and maintains an adequate and equitable system of funding public education. It is an unprecedented coalition of nearly 50 groups representing educators, faith-based organizations, children’s advocates, business leaders, labor, charter schools, traditional public schools and representatives from rural, urban and growing school districts.

You can learn more by visiting the campaign’s website at www.fairfundingpa.org.

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Pennsylvania’s Youngest Learners Have Waited Long Enough

The call for stronger investments in high-quality early learning has grown substantially over the years. Unfortunately, the level of Pennsylvania’s financial support for these programs hasn’t kept pace.

Our latest “School Readiness” report, issued earlier today, notes the commonwealth’s investments in early learning programs has been relatively stagnant despite growing support for high-quality early learning programs among policymakers, business leaders, voters, educators and many others. Consider:

  • Just 18.9 percent of Pennsylvania’s 3- and 4-year-olds - or only 1 in 6 children - have access to high-quality, publicly funded pre-k programs.
  • Among children age 0-4 who are in need of child care, only 7.5 percent - or less than 1 in 13 - benefit from high-quality care.
  • About 319,000 Pennsylvania children under age 5 - nearly half of this young population - live in low-income households. Greater access to child care subsidy is critical to ensure parents in these struggling households are able to work and their children are safe and well cared for while they work.

We can do better. In fact, if Pennsylvania is truly committed to creating a competitive, world-class workforce and draw jobs and families in the years ahead, we have to do better.

Two weeks from today, Gov. Tom Wolf will make his first-ever state budget address, marking the start of a months-long season of budget negotiations among state leaders where they will debate the commonwealth’s spending priorities.

We need to make sure high-quality early learning programs are a critical part of that discussion – and investments in these programs need to start matching the supportive rhetoric. You can help in this effort by letting your elected officials know you want to see stronger investments in high-quality early learning.

As our “School Readiness” report notes: “Years of deferred investments in proven early learning programs have added up to missed opportunities for many children – a trend we can reverse if we have the will to make smart choices for future generations and move beyond talk to legitimate action.”

Let’s start reversing that trend now. Pennsylvania’s youngest learners have waited long enough.

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Medicaid Expansion Can Help Cover More Kids

Gov. Tom Wolf today announced Pennsylvania will pursue Medicaid expansion as allowed under the federal Affordable Care Act. This is great news for Pennsylvania's children and families because such an expansion will help streamline and simplify access to health care coverage for more uninsured adults, many of whom are parents.

There are an estimated 131,000 uninsured parents in Pennsylvania, and research shows that parents who are insured are more likely to have their children insured. Expanding Medicaid to more adults can help achieve the goal of making sure every documented child in Pennsylvania is insured – a goal that has longstanding, bipartisan support among state lawmakers and many governors over the last two decades.

When parents who are struggling with their own health care needs don't get the appropriate treatment they need, it makes them less able to focus their time and attention on raising their children. The elimination of premiums, the restoration of benefits and the streamlining of enrollment processes that Medicaid expansion achieves will help reach our goal of providing affordable, quality health care coverage to every Pennsylvania family.

Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children looks forward to working with the Wolf administration to make Medicaid expansion happen as quickly as possible. It's good for kids and good for the commonwealth.

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How Economic Struggles Impact Children’s Health

The Great Recession might be over, but its ripple effects continue to impact children in health care and many other ways, according to a new report issued by the bipartisan children’s advocacy organization First Focus and PolicyLab at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

The report, The Effect of the Great Recession on Child Well-Being, was released on Feb. 3 in conjunction with a Congressional briefing that featured remarks from PPC Health Policy Director George Hoover.

Hoover discussed how the lack of health insurance can have a detrimental “snowball effect” on a child’s life and explained how Pennsylvania’s CHIP and Medicaid programs help to keep our commonwealth’s children healthy during turbulent economic times. These programs can be critical for children and families because:

  • When parents lose their jobs, employer-based coverage is no longer available and quite often COBRA or private coverage becomes unaffordable.
  • Children who have insurance generally have better school attendance, meaning they are likely to do better in school. In the long-term, this is better for the child, the family and our economy.
  • Children who lack insurance are less likely to see a doctor and get the preventive care they need, which can lead to delayed diagnoses and result in more severe medical problems and higher treatment costs.

Unfortunately, our health care coverage structure for kids is at risk unless Congress acts to extend federal funding for CHIP. While CHIP is authorized through Sept. 30, 2019, it is only funded through Sept. 30, 2015. If Congress does not authorize more funding by Sept. 30, about 147,000 children currently receiving coverage through CHIP stand to lose that coverage.

To learn more about the urgent necessity of extending CHIP funding, visit papartnerships.org/chip.

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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’ Visits the PA Capitol

Pre-K for PA supporters hit the halls of the state Capitol this week to deliver education kits to members of the General Assembly so they know the many benefits of expanding access to publicly funded, high-quality pre-k.

Among the campaign supporters making legislative visits was Patricia Hunter, executive director of Spring Garden Children’s Center in Easton, Northampton County. 

“I joined the Pre-K for PA campaign because I believe that when parents raise their voice together, Harrisburg listens,” Hunter said. “As an early childhood educator, it breaks my heart that not all young learners get the opportunity to enter kindergarten with an equal and solid foundation.

“I am encouraged by Gov. Tom Wolf’s campaign promise to expand access to high-quality early education and hope that the legislature will work with him to accomplish this laudable goal,” she said.

Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children shares that hope. That’s why we decided to be a founding partner in the statewide, nonpartisan Pre-K for PA campaign, as well as the Early Learning PA campaign,  which is advocating for a comprehensive early childhood system that ensures that Pennsylvania's children, particularly its most vulnerable, have access to the education and support they need to enter school ready to learn.

As a new legislative session gets underway and we await Gov. Wolf’s first budget address in early March, we hope you’ll join us in pushing for expanded opportunities for all young learners.

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