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

An Update on PA Budget Talks

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 …

EARLY LEARNING

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.

K-12

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.

CHILD WELFARE

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.

CHILDREN’S HEALTH

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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Supreme Court Ruling Preserves Health Coverage for PA Children

The U.S. Supreme Court today issued a ruling that gives the Affordable Care Act – and the health coverage it has provided to millions of Americans – a strong, definitive endorsement. In a 6-3 decision, the high court ruled that the ACA was designed to provide a tax credit to any American who qualifies, regardless of whether that tax credit is obtained through a state marketplace or the federal HealthCare.gov site that we use in Pennsylvania.

More than 380,000 Pennsylvanians who qualify for such a tax credit have coverage now and could have gone uninsured if the court ruled the other way. This decision is good news for many Pennsylvania children, since research shows that children who live in families where their parents are insured are more likely to be insured themselves. Today’s court ruling helps those families stay insured, which increases the likelihood of their kids being covered, too.

There are still about 147,000 Pennsylvania children without health insurance - representing about 1 in 20 of our kids - but thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, we are close to reaching the finish line for quality care for all kids.

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Basic Education Funding Report Goes to Lawmakers

Efforts to create a better way to fund Pennsylvania’s public schools took a big step forward today.

Pennsylvania’s Basic Education Funding Commission unanimously approved a set of recommendations for equitably funding our public schools, including a proposal for a basic education funding formula that accounts for critical factors such as students living in poverty and each school district’s size and wealth. The recommendations now go to the General Assembly for action.

Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children is pleased to see this important development, given Pennsylvania is among just three states that lacks a basic education funding formula. And federal data shows Pennsylvania’s state and local per-pupil spending in its poorest school districts is 33 percent lower than per-pupil spending in the wealthiest districts, by far the largest such spending gap in the country.

All of this adds up to inequities that are taking away opportunities for all of Pennsylvania’s children to receive a quality education. Pennsylvania needs a predictable, sustainable way to fund its public schools, and the commission’s report is a solid step toward achieving that goal.

Of course, a formula alone isn’t a definitive fix to our school funding problems. As PPC President and CEO Joan Benso noted: “Long-term solutions also require an ongoing, unwavering commitment by state leaders to ensure public schools are adequately funded so students and teachers have the resources they need to succeed in the classroom. Adequate funding needs to happen every year, not just once in a while.”

And while the commission addressed some important funding elements in its recommendations, there are additional funding challenges - such as the existing racial disparities in how we fund schools - that require further attention.

To tackle these ongoing challenges, we joined with other organizations from across the commonwealth to form the Campaign for Fair Education Funding. If you believe our students and schools deserve adequate, equitable funding now and in the years to come, please join the effort.

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PA Head Start Alumnus: ‘I’m Living Proof’ Early Learning Pays Off

Want to know the difference high-quality early learning opportunities can make in a child’s life? Consider the story of Mark Durfee, who grew up facing what he calls “the challenges of poverty” in rural Crawford County, Pennsylvania:

“I grew up in a farming family … raised by a single mother who struggled to make ends meet. My mother, who was one of the first to graduate high school in her own family, valued education and wanted to ensure I was given every opportunity to achieve a better life. As soon as she could, she enrolled me in the local (Conneaut Valley) Head Start program to ensure that I would be fully prepared to enter kindergarten ready to succeed.”

Mark recalls Head Start teachers who “got me excited about learning and gave me the important emotional support I needed as my family faced the challenges of poverty at home.” He benefitted from wellness screenings and much-needed interaction with other young learners that helped build his social and emotional skills, and he credits Head Start with building a strong foundation for his school readiness.

“I am living proof of the incredible difference quality teachers and early learning can make in a young life,” Mark says.

After graduating high school and serving in the U.S. Army, Mark went on to college and earned master’s degrees in business, education and history. Today, he teaches 8th grade U.S. History at South Belton Middle School in Belton, Texas, where more than 60 percent of students come from low-income families, many of whom benefitted from Head Start programs.

“I only truly realized the impact that Head Start had on the trajectory of my own life after I began my career,” Mark recalls. “From a lack of access to medical care, to limited exposure to literacy tools, many students are entering school with enormous barriers to success. I can see the difference in those students who were lucky enough to attend Head Start.”

There are many more children like Mark Durfee across Pennsylvania, and they all deserve the chance to create their own success story. We can help give them that chance by strengthening our investments in high-quality early learning programs.

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Join Us for June 23 Rally for Education Funding

On Tuesday, June 23, Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children will join with hundreds of parents, students, teachers and community leaders from across the commonwealth to rally for fair education funding at the state Capitol. We’d like you to be there, too.

Our message to state leaders is simple: Harrisburg’s top priority this year must be enacting a new system that provides sufficient funding for public schools so every child has an opportunity to learn. In addition, state funding MUST be driven out to districts using a formula based on the real costs of delivering services to students.

WHAT: The Campaign for Fair Education Funding Rally for Fair Funding

WHERE: State Capitol, Harrisburg

WHEN: Tuesday, June 23 (noon press conference in Rotunda)

WHY: We cannot afford to let our students fall behind

 

Please pass along this message to your family, friends and neighbors and ask them to join our efforts. If they want to know why they should care about fair funding for our schools, here are 10 reasons you can share.


LEARN MORE AND FOLLOW THE CAMPAIGN AT

www.fairfundingpa.org

Twitter

Facebook

 

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Join the Campaign for Fair Education Funding

Every Pennsylvania student deserves a quality education no matter where that student lives. But Pennsylvania’s public school funding system is failing our children:

  • It does not provide enough resources to educate all students to academic standards.
  • It contributes to deficiencies in equal opportunity based on factors like income and race.
  • It is so unpredictable that school districts cannot effectively budget or plan.

That’s why Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children has joined the Campaign for Fair Education Funding - an unprecedented coalition of more than 50 organizations from across Pennsylvania - to ensure Pennsylvania adopts and maintains an adequate and equitable system of funding our schools.

We need you to join, too.

The campaign’s proposed formula could enable every child to meet state academic standards, be prepared for post-secondary success, and become productive, knowledgeable, and engaged adults.

Visit fairfundingpa.org to learn more about why we need a fair funding system and sign up to support this effort.

You can also follow the campaign on Twitter and Facebook.

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May 14 Call to Action: It’s Time for Fair Funding for PA Students

Tomorrow (Thursday, May 14) is statewide “Call to Action for Public Education Day.” Join thousands of parents, students, teachers and community members from across the state to speak up in support of our public schools.

The message is simple: An adequate, equitable system for funding Pennsylvania’s public schools must be a top priority at the Capitol this budget season.

This effort will require a student-driven funding formula for basic education that strategically directs resources to students and school districts with the greatest needs and provides the investment necessary to enable every child to succeed academically.

You can help us send this message to Harrisburg on Thursday by investing just a few minutes of your time. Here are three quick things you can do to make a difference on May 14:

  1. Call your state senator.
  2. Call your state representative.
  3. Call Gov. Tom Wolf’s office (717-787-2500) and encourage him to hold strong on his support for fair funding for public schools.

(Click here for talking points and instructions on how to find your legislator.)

Please take a few minutes on Thursday, May 14, to help ensure a bright future for Pennsylvania!

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Another Year of Missed Pre-K Opportunities

When it comes to offering high-quality pre-k, Pennsylvania still isn’t making progress, according to a new report out today from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER).

NIEER’s latest State of Preschool report finds that, among states offering publicly funded pre-k programs:

  • Pennsylvania has dropped to 15th in the nation (down from 14th last year) in pre-k access for 3-year-olds. Five years ago, we ranked 11th nationally.
  • Pennsylvania remains stuck at 30th in the nation in pre-k access for 4-year-olds – the same ranking we held last year. Five years ago, we ranked 24th nationally.

The good news is we know how to turn this around – and you can help.

The governor has proposed increasing state funding for high-quality pre-k by $120 million in the coming fiscal year so about 14,000 more Pennsylvania 3- and 4-year-olds can benefit from this once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity. This investment would increase access to publicly funded, high-quality pre-k from about 1 in 6 of our 3- and 4-year-olds to about 1 in 4. It’s a big step in a much longer journey to make high-quality pre-k available to every family that wants it for their child.

Here’s how you can help: Tuesday, May 12, is Early Childhood Action Day at the state Capitol. Join us in Harrisburg to let state lawmakers know we need to invest more in high-quality pre-k. Can’t make it? You can still lend your voice by taking part in Virtual Action Day tomorrow.

You also can join the Pre-K for PA campaign’s Capitol Caravan and make a trip to the Capitol at your convenience to talk to your lawmakers.

With your help, more Pennsylvania children can benefit from high-quality pre-k and the lifelong advantages it offers.

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