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

High-quality pre-k “has just done amazing things”

As a founding partner of the statewide Pre-K for PA campaign, we wanted to share a quick story with you from a parent who has seen the benefits of high-quality pre-k.

Earlier this week, representatives from the Pre-K for PA campaign (including PPC President and CEO Joan Benso) were featured guests on a central Pennsylvania talk show, making the case for why Pennsylvania needs to drastically expand access to high-quality pre-k for the commonwealth’s 3- and 4-year-olds. A mom named Julie from York County called in to share how she found an affordable Pre-K Counts program for her son, who she feared might not be prepared to succeed in kindergarten. In Julie’s own words …

“It has just done amazing things. I was against (enrolling him in) kindergarten because I just knew that he wouldn’t be able to handle being in a classroom that long. And now, no worries whatsoever after him being able to be in this program. He didn’t need it for the academics. He needed it for the social, he needed it for the emotional stuff. … He has just succeeded so well in this program that I wish it was available more.”

We wish it were more available too, Julie. That’s why we’re working hard to make the case for increasing state investments in high-quality pre-k programs like Pre-K Counts and Head Start.

And that’s why the Pre-K for PA campaign needs voices like Julie’s – and yours – to tell Gov.-elect Tom Wolf and the General Assembly that investments in high-quality pre-k need to be a priority for 2015.

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Stalled Progress in Covering Uninsured Kids

Pennsylvania’s slow progress in covering more uninsured children is hardly unique, according to a new report from Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families that found a similar trend nationwide.

The report, Children’s Coverage at A Crossroads: Progress Slows, states the uninsured rate for children in the U.S. did not significantly decline in 2013 from the previous year, remaining just above 7 percent. Pennsylvania fares a bit better, with a children’s uninsured rate of a little more than 5 percent – but that rate also has changed little in recent years.

The CCF report also found:

  • Children in families living on the brink of poverty (100 to 199 percent of federal poverty level) are disproportionately uninsured and saw no significant improvement in their health care coverage rates.
  • School-aged children (ages 6-17) are more likely than younger children (under 6) to be uninsured.
  • Children living in rural areas are disproportionately uninsured. Nationally, 18.1 percent of children live in rural areas, but uninsured children in rural areas make up more than 20 percent of all uninsured children.

The report notes Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) can play a critical role in reducing the number of uninsured children. These two programs collectively cover more than 1.2 million Pennsylvania children, with CHIP serving more than 160,000 kids. But CHIP’s success in covering kids could be jeopardized if federal CHIP funding is not renewed by Congress before it expires in 2015.

That’s why PPC has been making the case to Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation to support an extension of CHIP funding through 2019. A program with proven success in covering kids and a history of strong, bipartisan support certainly deserves continued funding.

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Pennsylvania Legislature Elects New Leaders

Members of the Pennsylvania Senate and House this week elected new caucus leaders for the two-year legislative session that begins in January. While this might seem like “inside baseball” to some, the reality is these leaders help define the political landscape that children’s advocates navigate to enact measures that improve the well-being of Pennsylvania’s more than 2.7 million children.

In that context, PPC looks forward to working with the newly elected legislative leaders listed below to make Pennsylvania a great place to be a child and to raise our children.

Senate Republican Leadership:
Interim President Pro Tempore: Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson)*
Leader: Jake Corman (R-Centre)
Appropriations Chairman: Patrick Browne (R-Lehigh)
Whip: John Gordner (R-Columbia)
Caucus Chair: Bob Mensch (R-Montgomery)
Caucus Secretary: Richard Alloway (R-Franklin)
Caucus Administrator: Chuck McIlhinney (R-Bucks)
Policy Chair: David Argall (R-Schuylkill)

Senate Democratic Leadership:
Leader: Jay Costa (D-Allegheny)
Appropriations Chair: Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia)
Whip: Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia)
Caucus Chair: Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny)
Caucus Secretary: Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia)
Caucus Administrator: John Yudichak (D-Luzerne)
Policy Chair: Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton)

House Republican Leadership:
Speaker-Designee: Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny)*
Leader: David Reed (R-Indiana)
Appropriations Chairman: William Adolph (R-Delaware)
Whip: Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster)
Caucus Chair: Sandra Major (R-Susquehanna)
Caucus Secretary: Donna Oberlander (R-Clarion)
Caucus Administrator: Brian Ellis (R-Butler)
Policy Chair: Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre)

House Democratic Leadership:
Leader: Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny)
Appropriations Chairman: Joseph Markosek (D-Allegheny)
Whip: Mike Hanna (D-Clinton)
Caucus Chair: Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny)
Caucus Secretary: Rosita Youngblood (D-Philadelphia)
Caucus Administrator: Neal Goodman (D-Schuylkill)
Policy Chair: Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster)

*Pending vote by full chamber on Jan. 6, 2015

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Ready to Learn, Ready to Serve

Today, Americans will observe Veterans Day to symbolically thank those who have bravely and selflessly served our country. You might not realize it, but Veterans Day also is a timely opportunity to touch on one of the many benefits of high-quality pre-kindergarten.

The fact is, pre-k and other quality early learning opportunities are among the most cost-effective ways our nation can build a better prepared military that contributes to a stronger national defense.

That’s why the nonpartisan Pre-K for PA campaign has the support of Mission: Readiness, a national organization of retired senior military officials that works to reverse the high percentage of American youth who are ineligible for military service. These leaders know high-quality pre-k is a proven way to help kids learn and succeed should they someday choose to serve their country.

Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Dennis Benchoff, a prominent Pennsylvania voice for Mission: Readiness, puts it this way:

“Just as in the civilian workforce today, the military increasingly needs better-educated young men and women. Quality pre-k is a proven investment that will help achieve this goal. … The research is clear that providing high-quality pre-kindergarten to more children, we can better ensure that they are more likely to finish high school, stay away from crime, and enter the workforce with many options - including a career in the military if they choose to pursue one."

Yet a recent report commissioned by Mission: Readiness found that 72 percent of young Pennsylvanians are unable to serve in the military due to factors including a poor education, and 1 in 5 students nationwide - including16 percent in Pennsylvania - do not graduate from high school on time. Even among those who do graduate and try to join the military, more than 1 in 5 nationwide and 22 percent in Pennsylvania fail to score high enough on the military’s entrance exam to be admitted to serve.

We can fix this, and high-quality pre-k is one of the smartest, most cost-effective ways to get it done.

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