One Step Forward, One Step Back in Pennsylvania

Governor Tom Wolf set the tone in his budget request by increasing state investments in early learning, and legislators from both sides of the aisle came together to prioritize Pennsylvania’s children in the 2017-18 state budget.

But finding the revenue to pay for increases repeatedly plagues the tax-adverse General Assembly, and this year was no different.

The spending portion of the budget has been completed since the June 30th deadline. Closely following the passage of the state’s spending plan, the Senate approved and sent a revenue plan to the House which relied on a combination of borrowing and small tax increases. The House, with its growing conservative voting block, has been vocal that they will only raise taxes to resolve the budget deficit as a last resort. After failed attempts to pass a spending plan throughout the summer and into fall, the General Assembly finally passed the legislation to balance the budget in early November. It balanced by borrowing against the state’s share of the Tobacco Settlement Fund, cost shifting, and an expansion of gaming.

The state budget includes:

  • $30 million in increased funding for the state’s Pre-K Counts and Head Start Supplemental Assistance programs
  • $20 million in restored child care funding which was cut during the last fiscal year
  • $5 million for a new home visiting initiative because the governor and legislators recognized the need to expand evidence-based services. This new appropriation would operate like Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) funding as a competitive grant process open to all evidence-based models operating in Pennsylvania.

Other investments in children include funding increases in child welfare, and basic and special education.

Unfortunately, the delayed budget and short-term fixes mean continued instability for providers, and dollars needed to fund new initiatives still are not allocated. For instance, the procurement for the new home visiting appropriation has not been disseminated to local programs. Without the procurement, home visiting programs wishing to apply for funds to expand are being put on hold.

Harrisburg continues to be a one step forward, one step back environment. Programs that are committed to expanding services to serve more kids continue to face the reality that they may not be paid. Independent early learning providers and even school districts are becoming more unwilling to take the risk to open new classrooms or hire staff to provide scaled up services when non-payment and high interest payments on lines of credit have become part of the deal.

Our hope for the future is that our legislature and governor can come to consensus on not only their shared commitment to expand early learning opportunities, but reach agreement on revenue proposals that are reliable and predictable. Pennsylvania’s children deserve no less.

-Joan L. Benso
President and CEO
Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children
(December 2017)